If anyone doubted that racism still exists within the ranks of law enforcement, even top law enforcement officials, all doubts should cease after the recent resignation of Michael Saudino, the sheriff in Bergen County, New Jersey. Saudino was caught on tape making racist remarks about not only black people but Sikhs as well as gays.
New Jersey is the country’s most densely populated state, and Bergen County, located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, is the most densely populated county. Currently, about 950,000 people call the county home. While predominantly white, Bergen County is 20 percent Hispanic, 17 percent Asian, and 7 percent black. Saudino, who switched his affiliation from Republican to Democrat in 2016, had served as the county sheriff since 2010. He has had a 46-year career in law enforcement.
Marijuana and Racism
Democratic governor Phil Murphy won the election in 2017, replacing Republican Chris Christie, who left office with one of the lowest approval ratings in the state’s history. Murphy’s platform included marijuana legalization, and it was after Murphy’s January 2018 inaugural address when he mentioned legal cannabis that Saudino was recorded when he went back to his office and spoke with colleagues.
Saudindo didn’t like the idea of legal pot, saying, “In other words, let the blacks come in. Smoke their marijuana, do whatever the f*** they want, do this do that, and don’t worry about it. You know, we’ll tie the hands of cops.” Saudino also commented on Murphy’s selection of Bergen County prosecutor Gurbir Grewal, a Sikh, as the state’s attorney general. “He didn’t do that because of Bergen County; he did that because of the turban,” said Saudino.
He even questioned whether Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, a black woman, was gay, “because she’s never been married.” In one relatively brief recording, Saudino managed to hit a bias trifecta. He also mocked Murphy’s take on sanctuary states and criminal justice reform.
Immediate Call for Resignation
The recording was not made public until September 2018, when it was published online by WNYC. Murphy immediately called for Saudino’s resignation, saying anyone who used such “racist, homophobic, and hateful” language was not fit for public office.
Saudino, fighting for his job, insisted his comments “are not representative of the person I am” and noted that the increased diversity among the county sheriff department. Despite his denials, the fact remains that former employees are currently suing him, and discrimination is among their allegations.
Also, the New Jersey Policeman’s Benevolent Association, which represents Bergen County police officers, released a statement on September 21 claiming the organization had tried to warn about the sheriff’s “discriminatory character” for months.
That same day, Saudino realized he had no choice but to resign. Four of his deputies also resigned, but the taxpayers of New Jersey will continue paying for them for quite some time. All four who resigned, along with Saudino, were so-called “double dippers,” in that they had retired and received hefty pensions from prior law enforcement jobs and were receiving a salary for their Bergen County sheriff’s office duties.
A special election to replace Saudino is scheduled for General Election day on November 6. Since neither party expected to fill this seat, no well-known candidates are planning to run at this time. Let’s hope whomever is elected makes it clear that the type of attitude displayed by Saudino and his deputies is never acceptable among the rank and file. Saudino’s words caught on audio just confirmed the worst suspicions of groups like Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) as to what some law enforcement officials say in private regarding race.
Joseph Tully is a certified specialist in criminal law by the California state bar, and has been recognized as a Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorney by Attorney and Practice Magazine, one of an elite few having earned that designation. His new book, California: State of Collusion, is now available. Connect with Joseph at [hidden email] and follow Tully & Weiss Law Firm on Facebook.