FANWOOD, NJ — The borough’s former police chief claims in a lawsuit that the Union County Prosecutor’s Office jeopardized his pension and robbed him of enjoying his dying wife’s final days when it broke a perceived agreement to not investigate allegations that he made discriminatory and sexist comments aimed at top law enforcement leaders.
Former Fanwood Chief Richard Trigo — who denies he said the derogatory comments referencing state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and former acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park — claims that the prosecutor’s office told him it would not target him for investigation if he resigned in July, but that it then launched that investigation in spite of his resignation, according to the complaint filed in his lawsuit.
Trigo resigned from his role as police chief on July 13, claiming it was due to “extraordinarily serious health issues related to one of his family members, that is occupying virtually all of his time,” according to the August lawsuit, which the freeholders this month approved $10,000 to defend against. Trigo was then with his now deceased wife, who was struggling with cancer when the prosecutor’s office on July 22 sent him a “target letter,” a notice he was under investigation, the lawsuit says.
“The target letter is the breach of the agreement,” said Trigo’s attorney, Joshua F. McMahon, speaking with TAPinto. “It forecloses and prevents the pension board from having the ability to proceed and adjudicate his retirement. This is causing financial harm to a man who just lost his wife and is just trying to move on with his life and raise his children.”
The lawsuit claims that “Ruotolo stole from Chief Trigo and his wife the opportunity to enjoy the last days of her life.”
A spokesman for the Union County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment on the case.
The comments Trigo is alleged to have spoken are heard in a recording uploaded anonymously to YouTube in July, with Trigo allegedly calling Park “pretty hot,” and saying “she got wide ones,” while also referring to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal — the nation’s first Sikh state attorney general — as “that guy with the turban” adding that “I want to pull him like a top.”
Through his attorney, Trigo has denied making the comments, saying the audio is spliced and manipulated, a report by NJ Advance Media said.
“Chief Trigo, the first Spanish police Chief in Fanwood’s history, denies making any inappropriate comments,” McMahon said in a statement provided to the newsaper. “These altered recordings have unquestionably been manipulated and spliced together by persons upset with the reform and progress the Fanwood Police Department has made under Chief Trigo’s leadership.”
Trigo has 29 years in the New Jersey Police and Fireman’s Retirement System and last year drew an annual salary of $170,668, records show.
On Oct. 1, the Union County freeholders approved up to $10,000 for the law firm Chasan Lamparello Mallon & Cappuzzo, of Secaucus, to represent Ruotolo and the county’s interests in the case. At the meeting, Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella declined to comment on the case, but spoke highly of the acting prosecutor.
“I have nothing but respect for the work that [Ruotolo is] doing leading the prosecutor's office,” he said. “I'm going to leave it at that, but she has my full support in her efforts, and I encourage her to continue the fine work she's doing in the prosecutor’s office.”
The Fanwood Police Department remains under the control of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, with Prosecutor’s Office Capt. Kevin Grimmer serving as Fanwood’s officer in charge.
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