NJ sheriff investigator suspended for strangling ex-girlfriend, cops say
HACKENSACK — An investigator with the Bergen County Sheriff's Office is accused of strangling his ex-girlfriend, bringing renewed attention to strangulation victims in New Jersey.
NorthJersey.com reported that Stephen Walters, 33, was immediately suspended without pay after his arrest on Oct. 30, 2021. Walters, of Hackensack, faces two charges of assault.
A criminal complaint obtained by New Jersey 101.5 stated the victim, Walters's ex-girlfriend, was left with a swollen neck and bruises. She told the police that Walters had caused the injuries, according to the affidavit.
Walters, who worked for seven years as a Camden County police officer, was hired by the Bergen County Sheriff's Office in 2020. Sheriff Anthony Cureton told NorthJersey.com that until the criminal charges are resolved, his office will not discipline or fire the investigator.
Advocates warn that domestic violence victims who survive a strangulation attack face a greater risk of escalating violence.
A 2019 report from the state Domestic Violence Fatality Near Fatality Review Board called strangulation "one of the strongest predictors for the subsequent homicide of victims of domestic violence."
The report adds that a victim who survives a strangulation attempt is seven times more likely to become a homicide victim.
In July 2021, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill increasing penalties for strangulation in domestic violence cases. Abusers convicted of strangling their victims now face up to 10 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of up to $150,000.
Murphy approved the new law days after authorities found the body of 24-year-old Yasemin Uyar in Tennessee. A region-wide Amber Alert brought heightened attention to the young mother's death and domestic violence.
Her killer, 27-year-old Tyler Rios, was also her ex-boyfriend who had a history of domestic abuse charges. He had been charged with strangulation in 2018 but it was dismissed as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.
Bergen County is not unfamiliar with the risks that come with a strangulation attempt. The county's Human Services Institute hosted a seminar for social workers in 2020 dedicated entirely to learning about strangulation.
The sheriff's office was listed as a panel guest for a Spring Domestic Violence Awareness Symposium at Ramapo College on Tuesday, May 24. A Facebook post from the sheriff's office on Monday indicated Cureton plans to attend.
A spokesperson for the sheriff's office told New Jersey 101.5 that Cureton attended the symposium as a speaker but was not on the panel this season. Cureton had previously participated in the event and the sheriff's office was a county sponsor.
The spokesperson stated the office had no comment on Walters's pending criminal investigation.