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Bergen Democrat freeholders accuse Donovan, county police of cover-up

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: The four Democrats on the Bergen County Freeholder Board today accused county Executive Kathleen Donovan and the county police of attempting to cover up the department’s role in a traffic stop of a Republican colleague by a sheriff’s officer.

The freeholders renewed their request for Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli or the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate the Aug. 14 stop of Freeholder Maura DeNicola on Route 208 in Fair Lawn.

The reason: “plausible evidence that the county police and Donovan Administration attempted to cover up official actions [that] led to the county police ending up at scene.”

“Today is a sad day for Bergen County and our law enforcement community,” said Freeholder Chairman David L. Ganz. “I am hopeful that the Bergen County Prosecutor or Attorney General’s office will undertake an impartial investigation and answer many of the questions we have and determine if any illegal action took place.”

In a letter to Donovan, Freeholder Tracy Zur ( above ) called on Donovan to suspend her Chief of Staff Jeanne Baratta and Police Chief Brian Higgins for “intentionally misleading the public and members of the governing body” until an investigation is concluded.

Zur, the chairwoman of the board’s Law and Public Safety Committee, cited four media reports — one by CLIFFVIEW PILOT — in which she said both Baratta and Higgins said that county police officers were driving by and stopped at the scene by coincidence.

The claim is directly contradicted by a letter that Higgins sent to Donovan last Friday, which CLIFFVIEW PILOT published last night: Bergen sheriff, police chief call for investigations of one another’s agency

“As a prosecutor and former judge, I’m quite concerned by what appears to be a deliberate attempt to mislead the public,” Zur said today. “Both Ms. Baratta and Chief Higgins told multiple media outlets information that at minimum the chief knew to be untrue. RELATED:

Bergen sheriff’s officer claims being ‘distracted, intimidated’ by county police after stopping freeholder

Bergen freeholder calls for probe of county police role in sheriff’s stop of official

Bergen freeholder calls for prosecutor’s investigation of county police role in sheriff’s officer stop

Bergen sheriff, police chief call for investigations of one another’s agency

“This is a complete violation of the public’s trust and makes me question if this was an attempted cover up. Until such time that an investigation is conducted they should be suspended.”

County Administrator Ed Trawinski added a twist tonight when he said that previous incidents warranted the response.

“The Democrat freeholders are hanging their hats on a misuse of public assets or something,” he said. “Higgins made clear that an officer should respond only if they were available.

“In this day and age, when you’ve got such a hot issue, it is not unreasonable that law enforcement would come to make sure everything is OK and addressed adequately.”

The Democratic Freeholders cited the need to determine the validity of the allegations that Higgins made of misconduct by individual sheriff’s officers as another reason an investigation was needed.

“If anyone abused their power they should be held accountable for their actions,” Freeholder Joan Voss said. “We can not have vigilante law enforcement.

“Right now we have a ‘he said/she said’ situation between the Sheriff’s Office and county officials,” Voss added. “[I]f these events transpired as reported, discipline is warranted.”

“I was shocked by what I read,” said Freeholder Steve Tanelli. “There is a pattern of what I believe to be unethical and unprofessional conduct in this Administration.”

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