YOU SAW IT HERE FIRST: Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan’s chief of staff this afternoon said that two county police officers received unspecified discipline for going face-to-face with a New Jersey State Police trooper in a profanity-laced shouting match on the shoulder of the NJ Turnpike.
The officers berate the trooper for briefly removing his gun while investigating their unmarked van, in a May 31 confrontation captured on the trooper’s dashboard video camera and first reported exclusively on CLIFFVIEW PILOT in June.
The six-year veteran shouts back that a series of incidents involving carjackers posing as police — two of which that occurred within the previous two weeks — had him wary:
“The officers have been disciplined according to department procedures,” Jeanne Baratta, Donovan’s chief of staff told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon.
Although state Attorney General guidelines allowed her to confirm the action, Baratta said, they prohibit her from elaborating in any way.
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Earlier today, county Police Chief Brian Higgins concluded that no one was at fault, in an email to Nj.com (SEE: State police release reports, video of Turnpike confrontation with Bergen County police). He apparently made no mention of any discipline for his officers.
“Each was doing his job…it appears that the Trooper was doing his job in stopping and investigating the motor vehicle stop and the Bergen County Police Officer conducted a motor vehicle stop for a violation of the traffic laws,” Higgins told the site in an email.
“That motor vehicle stop did warrant further investigation at which time the County Police Officer was continuing to act in his capacity as a law enforcement officer,” Higgins is quoted as writing.
“I have seen interactions in the past between uniformed officers and officers wearing civilian attire that ended tragically,” he added. “The most important point here is that no one was hurt.”
Baratta, however, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that the unspecified disciplining began with Higgins.
“The chief does the investigation. He makes a recommendation to the county executive and she decides on the discipline,” she said.
Multiple sources confirmed that an NJSP major personally called on Higgins, who is also the county’s public safety director, to address his officers’ behavior during the confrontation.
Higgins hasn’t returned calls, texts or emails seeking comment on the incident. He has also refused to respond in any way to requests for information or discussion involving any other other incidents, arrests or other agency-related matters since then.
Besides questions about what happened that day, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has sought to ask Higgins why a county police officer was apparently stopping a motorist on the Turnpike — where State Police have jurisdiction — without notifying the NJSP.
“The Bergen County Police and the New Jersey State Troopers have worked past this incident and continue to have a good working relationship (they recently worked together on the tragic drowning at Overpeck Creek),” Baratta told CLIFFVIEW PILOT in an email yesterday. “They will continue to work together.
“Chief Higgins recently received correspondence from Colonial Fuentes of the New Jersey State Police regarding the Bergen County Police and NJ State Police working together on providing manpower and assets for the upcoming Super Bowl,” she said.
CLIFFVIEW PILOT broke the original story in June: NJ State trooper confronted by Bergen County police on Turnpike, investigation demanded
It also submitted OPRA requests for the video and accompanying trooper report.
The releases of both yesterday come after an incident involving a Bergen County Sheriff’s officer who said he felt “distracted and intimidated” by two county police officers after pulling over a county freeholder for a traffic violation (SEE: Bergen sheriff’s officer claims being ‘distracted, intimidated’ by county police after stopping freeholder).
“I stand firmly behind the actions of our trooper in the face of a potentially dangerous interaction,” Col. Rick Fuentes, the State Police superintendent, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT yesterday.
“In the two weeks prior to this incident, two separate vehicles on the Turnpike were carjacked by armed men impersonating police officers. The criminals were wearing police-type clothing and ballistic vests,” Fuentes said.
Just five days before the county police incident, a vehicle was pulled over on the Turnpike outside Newark by two men wearing what looked like police clothing — one of them armed with a semi-automatic handgun — who carjacked the motorist.
A similar scenario played out on May 16, less than two weeks before the county police confrontation, NJSP Lt. Stephen Jones told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.
As a result, “be on the lookout” (BOLO) alerts went out, Jones said (see below).
“Aware of these incidents, and with no advance notice of the operation, our trooper was fully justified in approaching this stop with the utmost caution,” Fuentes said yesterday.
State Police yesterday also revealed an earlier incident – this one just before 3 in the afternoon on Jan. 31 – involving a county police K9 vehicle found stopped in the painted lines of a turnpike entrance in Teaneck. A trooper responded because of past incidents involving people posing as police. Everything checked out fine, without incident, he reported.
In a story published yesterday, the trooper involved in the May 31 incident reported: “At one point the initial PC [plainclothes] officer I had contact with had invaded my personal space. I was forced to create distance between us in order to avoid a physical confrontation. A verbal argument continued on between myself and the PC officer.”
In the video, obtained and first published by CLIFFVIEW PILOT this morning, the trooper unholsters his gun as he approaches an unmarked van with police lights that has a car stopped on the shoulder of the NJ Turnpike express lanes at milepost 118.5 in Leonia near the George Washington Bridge.
State Police said the six-year department veteran drew his gun in response to a series of carjackings in which the robbers wore tactical vests and posed as police (see reports, below).
“You’d better have a good f—–‘ reason why you’re whippin’ your f—–‘ weapon out,” BCPD Officer Robert Duboue tells him after the trooper demands identification.
“I do,” the trooper responds. “Armed robbery. Police impersonators.”
“I want your badge number,” the Bergen officer says a bit later.
“You’ll get it,” says the trooper, whose name was redacted from the incident report obtained and published by CLIFFVIEW PILOT yesterday (SEE: NJSP report: Trooper confronted by Bergen County police).
The trooper insists on seeing Duboue’s identification, which he retrieves from the van.
The trooper later waits several minutes on the passenger side of the car — serving as uniformed backup, State Police later said, on the roadway over which they have jurisdiction — while the Bergen officer deals with the driver he’s pulled over.
About 6½ minutes after the trooper pulls up, a Bergen County Police supervisor arrives.
The argument then gets heated.
“You can get the f— out of here,” the supervisor, Sgt. Gabriel Escobar, says as he walks up to the trooper.
Duboue then advances on the trooper, going chest to chest with him.
“Get out of my face,” the trooper shouts at him. “You don’t know what goes on out here. We’ve had a rash of three of them in the past month … three impersonators …. “
The argument continues. “F— you! Bullsh-t!” the trooper then shouts, before turning away.
“Get the f— out of here,” Escobar says, waving his arm.
The trooper immediately turns back.
“You don’t know what goes on out here,” he says. “You didn’t give me a f—–‘ chance.”
“Go cry to your boss,” Escobar says, moving closer with Donohue.
The trooper extends his arms outward from his sides, his faces inches from Escobar’s, as the argument continues. The three officers all continue to shout at once.
Escobar and Duboue then turn their attention to the car that’s been pulled over.
“Don’t ignore me,” the trooper says. “I want to explain. Nobody wants to hear.”
“You pulled a f—-‘ gun on me, you scumbag,” Duboue says. “If I pulled my gun on you, how would you feel?”
“I’ve tried to explain this to you,” the agitated trooper tells the county police supervisor. “We’ve had a rash of them the past month … a rash of three police impersonators.”
He also says that “when our plainclothes guys are out here, they let us know.”
“That’s right. It’s a rookie move,” the trooper eventually remarks, sarcastically.
Emphasizing the point, he taps his badge several times. “You know who I am,” he says, indicating that, unlike the Bergen officers, he’s in uniform and clearly identifiable. “I don’t know who you are.”
The trooper eventually gets Escobar’s name and badge number and returns to his cruiser, presumably to check out the identification.
As he’s doing that, Duboue walks to the back of the unmarked van, opens it and says to to him: “Wait. Take a picture of this. Hold on.”
At that point, the trooper is out of the cruiser and the arguing resumes.