HACKENSACK — The elected sheriff of Bergen County is asking for forgiveness — but resisting calls for his resignation — after being caught on tape making bigoted comments about black people and the state's Sikh attorney general, as well as questioning the lieutenant governor's sexuality.

Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday called for Sheriff Michael Saudino's resignation if it indeed turned out that the voice in the audio was Saudino's. Saudino confirmed the audio in an apology Thursday evening.

"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. "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."

The audio, which includes vulgar language, was obtained and released by WNYC on Thursday. It was secretly captured in January after Murphy's inauguration. It is not clear why it was released now.

In the tape, Saudino says Murphy's plan for criminal justice reform would "in other words let the blacks come in, do whatever the f*** they want, smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don't worry about it. You know, we'll tie the hands of cops."

Saudino also said the only reason Murphy had appointed Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal as attorney general was because he wears a "turban." Grewal is the nation's first Sikh attorney general.

Saudino also wondered whether Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who is not married, is a lesbian.

Saudino was elected to a third term in 2016 as a Democrat after winning previous elections as a Republican. Democrats on Thursday piled on with calls for him to abandon his position.

“Without question, the comments made on that recording are appalling, and anyone using racist, homophobic, and hateful language is unfit for public office. If indeed that is Sheriff Saudino's voice on the recording, he must resign," Murphy said earlier on Thursday.

Also calling for Saudino's resignation:

  • Grewal
  • Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex
  • Democratic Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco
  • Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen
  • Assemblywoman Lisa Swain, D-Bergen
  • Assemblyman Chris Tully, D-Bergen
  • Former Bergen County sheriff and current Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 5th District, who was endorsed for re-election by Saudino, also called for the sheriff's resignation.

The Sikh Coalition, a national civil rights group, said the sheriff should step down.

“Tone at the top matters and we must hold our public officials accountable for this despicable bigotry. Law enforcement needs to provide trainings in order to restore trust and demonstrate that hate will not be tolerated," Sikh Coalition Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager Sim J. Singh said.

The county's Republican chairman could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In his letter Thursday, Saudino said he has "worked hard to successfully increase the diversity" of his department.

"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," he said.

Saudino did not name the people who he had contacted.

"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."

The audio also captures Saudino referencing Murphy's position on making New Jersey a "sanctuary state" for immigrants in the country illegally.

Saudino's office has recently been taking heat from immigration advocates because the county jail is among the facilities in the state that take millions of dollars from the feds to house immigration detainees.

This was not the first time that Saudino was accused of using crude language. According to The New York Times:

During the 2012 election, Kathleen Donovan, the Bergen County executive, accused Mr. Saudino of referring to her with a vulgar term and afterward refused to have any private meetings with him. Mr. Saudino denied having made the remark and called the person who told Ms. Donovan about the remark a “lying rat.”

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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