Bergen County officials Monday called for a federal investigation after a traffic stop involving a freeholder embroiled in a wide-reaching conflict over the future of Bergen County’s law enforcement.
Bergen Exec Kathleen Donovan is expected to ask the U.S. Attorney’s Office to look into charges that sheriff’s officers have hounded county officials over a proposed merger of Bergen County’s police and sheriff’s offices, according to a report on northjersey.com.
The drama comes on the heels of a report concerning an August traffic stop involving Republican Freeholder Maura DeNicola. (Video recorded by a county police dash-cam is attached above.)
The Bergen County Police report, submitted to Donovan on Friday, details an incident in which DeNicola was pulled over on Route 208 in Fair Lawn by a sheriff’s officer on her way home from a public meeting.
County police officers reportedly showed up soon afterward, and the sheriff's department alleged that they had interfered on behalf of the elected official. DeNicola, meanwhile, suggested that she had been the victim of harassment by the sheriff's officer over her position against a proposal for the department to take over the functions of the county police department.
The car she was driving was towed due to an expired registration.
While the former Franklin Lakes mayor took responsibility for the lapse in her vehicle's registration, she has questioned the reason for the traffic stop—moving too slowly on the highway—and told The Record that it "was not my first episode with the sheriff's department."
In the report, Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins points to a “troubling pattern of behavior” from the sheriff’s department “that rises to the level of harassment with the intent of influencing government officials.”
The sheriff’s office, meanwhile, struck back late Monday, calling for county or state authorities to investigate the county police.
“These new revelations stand in direct contradiction to Chief Higgins’ prior public contention,” the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office statement said. “The chief is now on record as having lied to the public.”
The Bergen County Police report issued Friday also details an alleged incident at a Washington Township restaurant in which County Sheriff Michael Saudino reportedly told Bergen County Police Detective John Baker that “the war is coming.”
Donovan has been a staunch supporter of the county police. In 2011 she appointed a committee to study possible consolidation of the forces. The committee ultimately opposed total consolidation, recommending instead limited reforms to improve efficiency in county law enforcement.