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Three indicted in ambush shooting of undercover Paramus officer in Garfield

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Courtesy BERGEN COUNTY SHERIFF
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A year to the day that it happened, three men charged in the ambush shooting of an undercover Paramus police officer in Garfield were indicted conspiracy, weapons, aggravated assault and other counts by a state grand jury in Trenton.

Rafael Vasquez (MUGSHOT: Courtesy BERGEN COUNTY SHERIFF)

The indictment also charges the man who fired the shot, 26-year-old Rafael Vasquez of Passaic, with first-degree attempted murder of a police officer and with being a convicted felon in possession of a weapon.

His co-defendants: Melvin Guzman, 20, of Garfield, and 22-year-old Patrick Morel, 22, of Clifton, who also is charged in the 10-count indictment with eluding.

“Police officers put their lives on the line each day to protect all of us,” said acting state Attorney General John J. Hoffman said this afternoon. “We must do our part to make them safer by aggressively prosecuting anyone who threatens them with a deadly weapon.”

“This undercover officer was fortunate to escape with his life,” said Director Elie Honig of the state Division of Criminal Justice. “These defendants demonstrated that they pose a grave threat to the community, and we intend to keep them behind bars where they cannot do any further harm.”

The officer, who was on loan to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Narcotic Task Force when he was shot in the right hip and lower left leg in the Garfield Walmart parking lot last April 22, was released a few days later from Hackensack University Medical Center.

Vasquez was hit in the arm and leg by shots fired by backup officers outside the Marshals store off Passaic Street. He was treated at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson before being jailed on $2 million bail.

Rafael Vasquez, Melvin Eliscer Guzman, Patrick Morel (MUGSHOT: NJDOC) FILE PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

An investigation by CLIFFVIEW PILOT found that Vasquez — also known as “King Lucifer” — plea-bargained his way out of a pair of attempted murder charges to lesser counts in Passaic County.

As a result, he spent only three months behind bars before being released in November 2013, despite a history of violent crime, records show.

A Passaic County grand jury indicted him on attempted murder charges in January 2011. That charge was merged with a second attempted murder count a week later — which boosted his bail to $1 million from $350,000, records show.

The 5-foot-5-inch, 140-pound Vasquez — also known as Rafael Vasquez-Pina and Gustavo Canga — pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in exchange for a three-year term. But records show he was soon back on the street, having received credit for time spent behind bars.

The New York City-born ex-con already had a lengthy record before the more serious charges.

These include:

• obstruction and resisting arrest — to which Vasquez pleaded and for which he was sentenced to 364 days in jail in — September 2010;

• charged with robbery brought Vasquez parole in 2009 after a year in prison — again, thanks to credit for time served;

• pleas in 2007 to joy riding and criminal trespassing.

Rafael Vasquez FILE PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

Deputy Attorney General Anthony P. Torntore presented the case to the state grand jury for the DCJ following an investigation by detectives from the NJ State Police Major Crime Unit and the DCJ invesigators assigned to the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team.

Deputy Attorney General Vincent J. Militello also was assigned to the investigation, Hoffman said.

Under an Attorney General directive, the Shooting Response Team is dispatched to the scene to investigate when state troopers, county investigators, or county task force officers are involved in a shooting.

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