Bergen official who interfered with friend’s DWI won’t be charged
A suspended Bergen County public safety official has been cleared of criminal charges after, authorities say, he repeatedly interrupted police as they were attempting to make a drunken driving arrest following a motor vehicle stop in March.
According to the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, Public Safety Director Ralph Rivera's actions during the early morning traffic stop in Hackensack "did not rise to the level of criminality." On April 7, the Prosecutor's Office began an investigation of the incident at the request of Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco III.
Authorities say that during the early morning hours of March 19, Rivera showed up at the scene of a motor vehicle stop involving a driver identified as Francisco Almonte. An investigation by the prosecutor's office found that the public safety director "interrupted the arresting officer on multiple occasions and interfered with his arrest procedure."
Following the incident, Rivera, a former NJ State Police major and Bergen County undersheriff, was suspended with pay, according to a NorthJersey.com article, which also says Rivera earns an annual salary of $103,000.
In a dashcam video of the incident, Rivera can be heard telling Officer Andrew Kara "I used to be undersheriff and that's a friend of mine." The officer then tells Rivera that the incident is being recorded 'by camera and microphone" and he needed to "act accordingly."
According to NorthJersey.com, Kara stated in his arrest report that “At multiple points throughout my stop he kept asserting himself as, and referring to the title he currently holds." The officer said after learning Rivera's identity, he felt "overwhelmed." The driver was cited on a charge of driving while intoxicated, and given a summons for failing to signal, the story states.
In a statement Monday, Acting Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal said that since Rivera is not the executive of a Bergen County law enforcement agency, "he is not subject to an internal affairs investigation by the BCPO under the Attorney General’s Internal Affairs Guidelines."
In addition, the prosecutor said Rivera's behavior during the March 19 traffic stop "is now a Bergen County employment matter."
A spokesperson for Bergen County did not immediately return calls seeking comment on how the county plans to proceed.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.