Hudson prosecutor defends investigation into Murphy staffer rape accusation
JERSEY CITY — Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez stood by her investigators in how they handled allegations of rape brought forward by a Murphy campaign volunteer against a man who was later hired by the Murphy administration.
Even though Katie Brennan called police and went to a hospital to undergo a rape kit examination, prosecutors later declined to file charges against Albert J. Alvarez.
Brennan recounted in a Wall Street Journal news story that after they attended an event for volunteers on the Phil Murphy gubernatorial campaign in April 2017, Alvarez gave her a ride home and asked to use her bathroom. Once inside her Jersey City apartment, Brennan said he pushed her onto a couch, forced himself on her, pulled up her T-shirt to put his mouth on her breasts and put his fingers in her vagina. Brennan said she told him "this is not consensual."
She contacted police, who referred the case to the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office. After several months of conversation with detectives, she thought an arrest was imminent. Instead, Brennan said she was told prosecutors declined to file charges. According to Brennan, Assistant Prosecutor Jane Weiner told her that the sexual assault examination found DNA evidence, but it was deemed "not strong enough," and Alvazez had maintained the incident was consensual.
After the case made headlines this month when Alvarez resigned Oct. 2, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the case had been reviewed by "career detectives" and "veteran special victims prosecutors," but not directly by Suarez.
The case has been referred to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office for further review and to negate any appearance of a conflict because Suarez said she knew both Brennan and Alvarez, although Suarez was not involved in the investigation that was opened and closed in December.
On Wednesday, Brenann's apokeswoman said that Brennan met Suarez for the first and only time in August, months after her case was closed.
"She did not know the prosecutor during the handling of her case, which was closed on Dec 1, 2017. During the course of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office’s investigation, Ms. Brennan spoke only with Assistant Prosecutor Jane Wiener and Detective Kristin Mikulak," Joanna Klonsky said in an email.
Klonsky said during the brief encounter in August, neither discussed the case.
Klonsky said that Brennan has not yet been contacted by prosecutors in Middlesex.
Suarez in a statement issued Wednesday said that four investigators and two supervising assistant prosecutors with a combined 85 years of experience reviewed the case.
"It is abundantly clear that everyone involved with this case handled the investigation properly and behaved like the seasoned professionals they are," Suarez wrote, adding that she welcomed any review of how her office handled the case.
"The implication that I would have interfered in any case to bring forth an improper result is both offensive and irresponsible," Suarez said in her statement.
The prosecutor, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2015 as the state's first female prosecutor, said she was unaware of the case until a WSJ reporter contacted her on Oct. 2 because of the high volume of cases her office handles, which is standard procedure. She said she contacted Grewal about her "familiarity" with both Brennan and requested that another office take on the case.
Alvarez resigned earlier this month as chief of staff of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority when he learned her accusations were about to be published by the Wall Street Journal.
Suarez said she was willing to speak to the special bipartisan committee that will investigate Brennan's allegations to defend the honor of her office.
Murphy announced three inquiries that will look into the hiring practices of his gubernatorial transition office, how sexual assault allegations are investigated and what changes in state policies should be considered.
The Democratic leadership of the state Senate has announced the creation of its own investigative committee.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to note that Joanna Klonsky is not Katie Brennan's attorney.