Judge: 4 Nj Officers Shouldn't Have Been Fired After Search

HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) — For the second time in more than three years, an administrative law judge has recommended reinstatement of four of the New Jersey police officers fired after the city of Hackensack said they engaged in a warrantless search of an apartment in late 2016.

NJ.com reports that Judge Andrew Baron said Thursday that Hackensack should not have fired Sgt. Justin de la Bruyere, Det. Rocco Duardo, Det. Mark Gutierrez and Officer Victor Vazquez.

The four and three since-retired officers were suspended in 2017 after they were accused of an unlawful search of an apartment and then falsifying a police report to cover it up. Then-Bergen County prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal, now state attorney general, dismissed eight criminal cases and told Hackensack prosecutors not to pursue others.

Baron said the officers were never given a fair chance to dispute their “Brady list” designation as officers whose history of lying would have to be disclosed to defense attorneys in criminal cases. A defense attorney earlier called the designation a “scarlet letter B” that made it nearly impossible for an officer to get a job in law enforcement.

Baron’s decision is a recommendation that the state civil service commission can uphold, amend or disagree with. City attorneys and lawyers for the officers can also file exceptions to the recommendation ahead of the commission’s decision.

In February 2019, another administrative law judge decided that the four officers and a since-retired detective should be reinstated. The commission upheld most of that recommendation but said two of the officers should be fired.

Attorney Charles Sciarra, who represents the officers, called Baron’s decision “vindication” that his clients shouldn't have been fired in the first place.

Hackensack spokesman Phil Swibinski said the city was already preparing its opposition to the recommendation and officials “absolutely stand by their decision to terminate these officers due to their egregious conduct." He said the city will dispute Baron's conclusion that the officers didn't have a chance to dispute the Brady designation.