WATCH: New Jersey Fires Five Police Officers Involved in Warrantless Search

Hackensack, New Jersey – The city has fired five police officers involved in the 2016 warrantless search of a Prospect Avenue apartment, according to a Friday statement from Ted Ehrenburg, the city manager.

The decision comes a little more than a week after Dennis Driscoll, the hearing officer who led an inquiry into the illegal search, recommended to the city that officials fire Det. Rocco Duardo, Det. Mark Gutierrez, Sgt. Justin de la Bruyere and Officer Victor Vazquez.

All four were dismissed Friday. As was Det. Joseph Gonzales, for whom Driscoll recommended a six-month suspension.

“These five officers betrayed their oath and brought dishonor to the Hackensack Police Department,” wrote Ehrenburg, a former police officer himself. “Terminating them today is the only justified and reasonable action that we can take to bring this matter to a close.”

A total of seven city officers — six of whom were assigned to the city’s narcotics unit — were suspended without pay last spring after an Internal Affairs investigation unearthed surveillance video contradicting the officers’ account of a Dec. 28, 2016 narcotics check.

The two highest ranking officers — Capt. Vincent Riotto and Lt. Scott Sybel — retired. Riotto retired before the disciplinary hearing started as part of a deal with the city administration and Sybel retired before the investigation into the search began.

City officials have made clear their desire to remove the five remaining officers. But at least three will fight on through appeals, their attorneys said Friday.

“They fired everybody, notwithstanding the recommendation of a hearing officer,” said Robert Biagiotti, Gonzales’s attorney.

Biagiotti said he will appeal the dismissal through the state’s Office of Administrative Law.

James Patuto, Gutierrez’s attorney, agreed.

“The decision, to me, was an overreach,” Patuto said. “The city now has really dropped the most extreme penalty on all the lower-level officers.”

Charles Sciarra, Duardo’s attorney, accused the city of tilting the hearing against his client.

“Hackensack selected and paid a hack hearing officer to fire my client,” Sciarra said. “The hack delivered.”

Ehrenburg’s statement called the firings justified, allowable and in the city’s best interests. But the manager could not be reached for further comment.

The five officers are still scheduled for a pair of hearings to determine if they’ll be known as “Brady officers,” or cops whose record of lying in an official capacity requires the prosecutor to notify defendants and their attorneys.

The hearings are scheduled for March 26 and 28.

John Labrosse, the city’s mayor, declined to comment Friday afternoon, saying he could not talk about a personnel issue.

Capt. Frank Aquila, the city police’s officer-in-charge, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hackensack’s internal inquiry led Gurbir S. Grewal, the former Bergen County Prosecutor, to drop charges in eight active criminal cases in which the Hackensack officers were involved. The move affected 16 defendants, including a known gang member and several violent criminals.

Grewal said at the time the conduct of the Hackensack officers left him no other choice.

“Simply put, their conduct undermines their credibility as law enforcement witnesses,” he wrote in a July letter to city police.

An unknown number of municipal cases were also dismissed on Grewal’s recommendation.

In December 2016, the seven officers claimed they went to the Sheldon Arms apartment building after a tip about drug activity in the area, according to a police report.

There were conflicting accounts of what happened at the apartment building.

In Gutierrez’s police report, he, along with Lybel, Duardo, Gonzales and Vazquez, were told by an anonymous man in the apartment building that there was an unattended child in apartment C7. The officers knocked on the front door, but got no response, the report said. So they entered through its unlocked door.

But the surveillance video, obtained by The Record and through a public records request, doesn’t show anyone directing the officers to C7, and the officers appear to pick locks to get into the apartment building and apartment. The report doesn’t include all the officers who were present.

In the tape, Duardo points out the third-floor apartment, and officers appear to pick the front door’s lock. It then shows Duardo and Gutierrez going into the apartment.

An anonymous letter singling out Riotto and the narcotics unit sparked the Internal Affairs investigation, which eventually uncovered the discrepancies between Gutierrez’s report and the surveillance video.


If you haven't already, be sure to like our Filming Cops Page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Please visit our sister site Smokers ONLY

Sign Up To Receive Your Free E-Book
‘Advanced Strategies On Filming Police’

About author

Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

You might also like