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

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

SPECIAL REPORT: A Bergen County Sheriff’s officer said a pair of county police officers “distracted and intimidated” him, asking a series of unnecessary questions about his job, after he stopped Freeholder Maura McMahon DeNicola for driving her husband’s car with an expired registration.

BCSO Officer Vincent Surace said he was serving process papers in the area just after 9 p.m. last Wednesday when he noticed DeNicola’s 2011 MINI Cooper “impeding the flow of traffic” on northbound Route 208 near Plaza Road in Fair Lawn.

“I followed  behind the vehicle and ran the license plate,” Surace wrote in his report, a copy of which was obtained by CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “The return stated the registration was expired [in May]. I activated my emergency lights and conducted a motor vehicle stop.”

Records showed the vehicle registered to DeNicola’s husband, Philip, he said.

After obtaining her paperwork, Surace said, he returned to his vehicle and contacted BCSO Operations to confirm the information.

Soon after, he wrote, “a uniformed Bergen County Police Officer in a marked unit arrived on the scene. Moments later a second Bergen County Police Officer in plain clothes in an unmarked unit also arrived.

“These units were not requested by me or Sheriffs Operations to assist,” he added.

“As I was trying to attend to the motor vehicle stop and give my full attention to Ms. DeNicola’s safety, the Bergen County Police Officers were attempting to engage me in several conversations,” Surace wrote. “They asked if I was in the Patrol Division and/or part of the SOG (Special Operations Group) Team.

“Neither of these conversations pertained to the motor vehicle stop,” Surace added, noting that he felt that he was “being intentionally distracted and intimidated by the Bergen County Police Officers.

“Instead of asking me if they could provide assistance to enhance the safety of the motorist or myself, they continued to ask questions about my job function(s) and engage me in unneccessary [unnecessary] conversation,” he said.

“This article does not reflect my experience,” DeNicola told CLIFFVIEW PILOT tonight. “I never identified myself as a freeholder, nor did I ask for or expect special treatment.

“I admit to the lapsed registration, which was immediately corrected. I did not summon County Police.

“Frankly, I am appalled that an officer of the law would use this to promote a political position, unless that was his agenda in the first place,” she said.

DeNicola, who is up for re-election on Nov. 5, recently reiterated her opposition to a plan favored by her Republican colleagues on the freeholder board to fold the county police department into the sheriff’s office.

County Executive Kathleen Donovan, who has opposed a merger, appointed DeNicola to a committee that recommended against consolidation following a study.

DeNicola contended that eliminating the county police would burden municipalities with additional responsibilities and “result in increased costs to the taxpayer in order to maintain law enforcement standards.”

“As a former mayor and mother of four children I think I speak for many mothers in the county when I say that I don’t think my children’s safety is worth $1 or $2 a month savings on my county tax bill,” she said.

Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino, who supports folding the county police into his agency, declined comment.

“The county police were there because they thought the two sheriff’s officers there needed backup,” County Executive Kathleen Donovan’s chief of staff, Jeanne Baratta, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “You see it on the road all the time. They saw two cars there with a spotlight on, so they pulled up.”

(Although DeNicola and Baratta immediately responded to requests for comment, Bergen County Public Safety Director Brian Higgins still hadn’t as of noon Tuesday.)

After determining that her paperwork checked out, Surace said, he returned to DeNicola’s car and told her it’s his agency’s standard operating procedure to issue a summons for expired registration and impound the vehicle.

He also said he told DeNicola — a former board of education member and onetime mayor of Franklin Lakes — that he would allow her to drive the car home, with him following, but couldn’t under the sheriff’s SOP.

Instead, he said: “I informed her that I would give her the courtesy of not issuing her a summons and /or impound her vehicle, which is under my discretion I let her call for a tow truck to have her vehicle towed to her residence.”

It was only after he gave her the full explanation that the BCPD officers left, ,” Surace wrote in his report.

Surace said he then waited with DeNicola until the truck arrived. Her son picked her up, he said.

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