Could Murphy staffer face rape charges? Prosecutors taking new look
Allegations a former Murphy administration staffer sexually assaulted a then-campaign volunteer are being newly reviewed by the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.
The revelation of the new investigation opens the possibility Albert J. Alvarez could face criminal charges in a case already reviewed by the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office — which declined to bring charges after determining it was unlikely to secure a conviction.
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced the investigation of allegations by Katie Brennan — now chief of staff at the state's housing agency, and a campaign volunteer at the time of the alleged assault — Monday.
He said the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office received a media inquiry about the case this month — questions about a scandal that this month opened the Murphy administration up to criticism for hiring Alvarez, and for its handling of the allegations. The prosecutor's office reviewed its file, showing the case was open and closed without charges last year, after being interviewed by "career detectives and reviewed by veteran special victims prosecutors," Grewal wrote.
He said neither Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez nor members of her executive leadership team had been involved in the decision to close the case — but reviewing the matter this month, she realized she knew both Brennan and Alvarez, and asked the Attorney General's office to supercede the case, to avoid conflicts of interest. Grewal, in turn, referred the matter to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.
MCPO detectives are reviewing the case file and will take any additional investigative steps they deem appropriate," Grewal said in an announcement Monday.
Allegations of rape
Brennan's story was detailed Sunday in the Wall Street Journal, more than a week after Albert Alvarez resigned as chief of staff of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. Politico New Jersey reported earlier this month that Alvarez resigned due to allegations of sexual misconduct made during the transition. In her statement, Brennan told a much more serious story.
The Journal story was the first time the accuser's name and position were revealed. Grewal did not refer to her by name in his announcement.
"On April 8th, 2017, Al Alvarez raped me. On April 9th, 2017, I learned the system is broken," she said Sunday in a separate statement following the report in the Wall Street Journal.
According to the story, Brennan said the incident happened after a gathering of campaign staffers in Jersey City when Alvarez offered to drive her home and then asked to use her bathroom. Inside her home Brennan said Alvarez pushed her onto the a couch and forced himself on her.
"I say, 'Stop, why are you doing this?'" Ms. Brennan recounted in the story. "And then I straight up said" 'This is not consensual."
Brennan told the Journal that Alvarez did not stop until she was able to kick him off and run into a bathroom. After Alvarez left Brennan called her husband in Sweden and her best friend who came to stay with her, the Journal story said. Both her husband and her friend confirmed the account to the Journal.
The day after the attack Brennan called police, according to the story, and the day after that she went to Jersey City Medical Center to be evaluated. She said she sent a letter to Alvarez the following week, saying she had been sexually assaulted and asking her not to contact her again, the Journal said.
In a separate statement emailed to reporters, she said she had "pursued every form of justice available," and that it "has become clear that this system is not built for survivors." While she said the story in the Journal was accurate, she has received "no justice."
Alvarez, through an attorney, has denied wrongdoing. The attorney told the Journal that Alvarez told prosecutors the encounter was consensual.
Alvarez and the Murphy campaign
Alvarez worked for the Murphy campaign as a member of the transition team and then as an employee in the administration. Brennan' said "several senior members" of the administration were aware of the alleged assault, but "failed to take meaningful action."
Mahen Gunaratna, a spokesman for Murphy, confirmed to New Jersey 101.5 that the accusations against Alvarez had come to light during the transition. He was hired after a background check turned up no criminal charges.
Gunaratna said Brennan had emailed the Murphys in June 2018 about a "sensitive matter," and the governor had forwarded the matter to his campaign counsel, who spoke to Brennan and her attorney. But despite Brennan's request, no meeting with Murphy was scheduled.
The Murphys were first informed Oct. 2 that the matter to which Brennan referred to involved sexual assault, Gunaratna said.
Gunaratna also said the Governor's Office learned on Oct. 11 of a separate accusation about Alvarez from either 1999 or 2000, which has also been referred to the Attorney General's Office.
Brennan has also urged the Murphy administration to take action to revise a two-year statute of limitations to file a civil suit.
Murphy and his wife Tammy said in a statement to New Jersey 101.5 that "any allegation of sexual harassment, misconduct, or assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness to ensure that survivors come forward and justice is served."
He said he's confidnet the allegation was handled appropriately under current procedures — but that those procedures should be revised to better respect victims of sexual abuse.
Republican lawmakers have additionally called for an investigation into how the allegations were handled.
The administration has directed Mamta Patel, the director of the Statewide Division of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action, to review current policies and procedures for addressing allegations of sexual misconduct.
— With previous reporting by Sergio Bichao and Adam Hochron
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