Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino announced his resignation Friday afternoon -- as did Executive Undersheriff George Buono, Undersheriff Robert Colaneri, Undersheriff Brian Smith and Undersheriff Joseph Hornyak -- following the release of secretly-recorded racist and homophobic comments by the sheriff.
The announcement came as multiple sources told Daily Voice of the existence of other equally incriminating audio.
Less than 20 minutes after the announcement, the Bergen County Courthouse was evacuated in response to an unspecified threat. The sheriff's office provides security to the courthouse, along with prisoner transport.
In a statement released by Director of Communications William Schievella:
"The Bergen County Sheriff’s Office announces that effective this date and at this time Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino has submitted his resignation as the Sheriff of Bergen County.
"Additionally, Executive Undersheriff George Buono, Undersheriff Robert Colaneri, Undersheriff Brian Smith and Undersheriff Joseph Hornyak have also submitted their resignations effective immediately.
"Pending the appointment of an interim sheriff by Governor Phil Murphy, Sheriff’s Office Chief Kevin Pell will be the officer-in-charge of the sheriff’s department’s operations and Bergen County Sheriff’s Office Warden Steve Ahrendt will be the officer-in-charge of the Bergen County jail’s operations."
"There will be no further statements at this time."
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, who was the target of one of Saudino's comments, called Saudino's resignation "an important first step in repairing the relationship between the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office and the diverse communities it serves."
He also explained why the undersheriff's tendered resignations, as well.
"Under state law, the Governor has the power to fill the vacancy left by the Sheriff’s resignation," Grewal said. "That appointment will be subject to the advice and consent of the state Senate. In the interim, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office will oversee day-to-day management of the Sheriff’s Office, with Chief Kevin Pell serving as the officer-in-charge of the department’s operations.
"But our work does not stop there. The fact that a top official could make racist comments about the African-American community – and that no one in the room would challenge or correct him – raises serious concerns."
“The Sheriff’s comments were indefensible, and it was clear he could no longer serve the people of Bergen County effectively," Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco said. "We cannot and must not tolerate discrimination from anyone, let alone our elected officials.
"Bergen County’s diversity is our strength and my administration works every day to ensure inclusion within County government and throughout our 70 municipalities. I have been in contact with state and local officials to ensure a smooth transition.
"I do not believe the Sheriff’s comments reflect the values of the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department who work hard to keep our communities safe.”
Gov. Phil Murphy, Grewal and Tedesco all called on Saudino to resign Thursday following the release of secretly recorded audio of the sheriff making racist remarks. Several other elected officials at all levels soon joined the chorus.
“I’ve got thick skin and I've been called far worse,” said Grewal, the first Sikh in the county to ever become a state’s top law enforcement officer. “But the comments about the African-American community are wrong, racist, and hurtful. The comments about our lieutenant governor are inappropriate and homophobic. New Jersey and Bergen County deserve better.”
Saudino, in turn, apologized and said he contacted community leaders and asked for their forgiveness.
According to WNYC , which released the audio, Saudino was speaking with colleagues following Murphy’s inauguration as governor in January when he was secretly recorded.
Several sources told Daily Voice the other voice heard prominently on the recording is that of a former employee who has sued the sheriff for wrongful termination.
In one clip, Saudino is heard saying:
"He talked about the whole thing, the marijuana, sanctuary state...better criminal justice reform. Christ almighty, in other words let the blacks come in, do whatever the fuck they want, smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don't worry about it. You know, we'll tie the hands of cops."
In another, he says that Murphy didn’t appoint Grewal because he is from Bergen County (Glen Rock) but, rather, because of the turban.”
Saudino also questioned whether Deputy Gov. Sheila Oliver is gay, WNCY reported.
"Without question, the comments made on that recording are appalling, and anyone using racist, homophobic, and hateful language is unfit for public office," Murphy said in a statement. "If indeed that is Sheriff Saudino’s voice on the recording, he must resign."
Tedesco, meanwhile, said: “Having worked with the Sheriff for years, I am shocked and disappointed to hear these comments. Bergen County’s diversity is our strength and his statements are clearly inconsistent with our values. In the best interest of the public, he should step down.”
As Bergen County prosecutor, Grewal worked with Saudino, a former Emerson police chief in his third term as sheriff.
Grewal called Saudino’s remarks disappointing and “inconsistent” with the man he knew.
His law enforcement experience and expertise are what got him the nomination for attorney general – and not his religion, Grewal said.
Saudino issued an apology Thursday night but stopped short of addressing calls that he resign -- which began coming in from state legislators as well as local officials, including the Hackensack mayor and council.
"At this time I would like to offer my sincere apology to the people of Bergen County for the insensitive recorded remarks that were made public today," Saudino said at the time. "These remarks are not representative of the person that I am and they are in no way consistent with the manner in which I have conducted my life personally and as a law enforcement professional with over 46 years of service to the residents of Bergen County.
"During my time as the Bergen County Sheriff I have worked hard to successfully increase the diversity of the membership in the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department. This increased diversity has been accomplished while working hand-in-hand with the members and leadership of our minority communities in Bergen County.
"In an effort to repair the damage to the friendships that I have built with these communities I have reached out directly to several respected leaders in the communities I have offended and I have personally offered my apologies and I have asked for their forgiveness and for their communities’ forgiveness.
"Going forward I will continue to treat everyone with the respect and dignity that is deserved by all and to be diligent in my duty to protect and defend the rights of all our residents."
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