Richard Berdnik, the sheriff of Passaic County, fatally shot himself on Tuesday at Toros, a Turkish restaurant in Clifton, according to northjersey.com.
His apparent suicide came just under a week after three Passaic County correctional officers were arrested by the FBI. The officers — Sergeants Jose Gonzalez, 45, Donald Vinales, 38, and officer Lorenzo Bowden, 39 — were charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and deprivation of rights for allegedly beating up a pretrial detainee in an area of the Passaic County Jail that didn’t appear on surveillance footage, the Paterson Times reported.
After the arrests, Berdnik announced that 29 officers would be laid off due to the jail getting shut down.
“I am well aware that there is much confusion and stress during this very difficult time in our agency,” Berdnik reportedly wrote in a memo about the layoffs. “I have done everything in my power to find employment for all affected employees but unfortunately, we must move forward to lay off 29 correctional police officers at this time.”
Berdnik was at Toros when he went into the bathroom. Shortly after, people inside the restaurant reportedly heard a gunshot.
In an interview with News 12, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said he “affectionally referred to him as America’s sheriff.” Mr Sayegh said Berdnik was “an exemplary law enforcement leader and a cherished friend,” and that he had seen him just one day earlier at the swearing-in of eight new police officers.
“My last words to him were, ‘Get in the picture, sheriff, get in the picture,” Mr Sayegh said.
Berdnik had served as Passaic County Sheriff since 2011, according to the department website. Before that, he had been a 28-year veteran of the Clifton Police Department.
A Clifton native, Berdnik leaves behind a wife of nearly 30 years and four adult children.
In a statement, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he was “deeply saddened” by Berdnik’s death.
“For more than four decades, Sheriff Berdnik courageously served the people of New Jersey — from his days as a police officer on the streets of Clifton to his five consecutive terms as the 49th Sheriff of Passaic County,” Mr Murphy said.
“Every single day, Sheriff Berdnik earned the trust of his constituents in Passaic County, and worked exhaustively to combat criminal activity, modernize the operations of the Sheriff’s Office, and meet the high standard of service we expect from members of law enforcement.”
“Tammy and I were blessed to have counted Sheriff Berdnik as a close friend. We will miss him — and his leadership — dearly,” Mr Murphy continued.
“And we are sending our prayers and condolences to Sheriff Berdnik’s wife, Monica, their four adult children, and the entire team at the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office.”
If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.