Murphy defends assault claim handling, but orders review
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday defended his administration’s handling of a state worker’s sexual assault allegation against a man who went on to work for him.
Murphy vowed to launch an investigation after Katie Brennan’s allegations surfaced Sunday in the Wall Street Journal, he said at a press conference at his Newark office. The probe will be led by former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero.
Brennan accused Albert Alvarez, the former chief of staff of the state’s Schools Development Authority and a Murphy campaign staffer, of sexually assaulting her in April 2017.
Alvarez has denied the allegations through his attorney.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people alleging sexual assault without their consent. Brennan came forward publicly in the Journal interview Sunday.
Brennan said she called the police and went to the hospital after the attack, in addition to alerting her husband and a friend. She said she tried for about a year to pursue charges against Alvarez, including alerting officials in Murphy’s administration.
“The failure of members of Gov. Murphy’s staff to respond in an aggressive, proactive fashion is unacceptable,” Brennan said in a statement.
Murphy, who succeeded Republican Chris Christie in January, said he was not made aware of the specific allegations until earlier this month, when Alvarez resigned. It’s unclear who exactly in his office found out about the allegations and when.
“I wish we hadn’t made the hire,” Murphy said. “I’m sick to my stomach once I heard what happened obviously.”
Murphy said he learned about the specific allegations on Oct. 2, the day Alvarez resigned.
He says he is planning to speak with Brennan, who currently works as the chief of staff at the state’s housing finance agency, later Monday.
Murphy’s comments came the same day the state attorney general’s office announced it was asking the Middlesex County prosecutor to reopen an investigation into the allegation.
The case was initially investigated by the Hudson County prosecutor’s office in 2017, which closed it without filing any charges.
The office says the investigation will now be taken over by the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office because the Hudson County prosecutor, Esther Suarez, knows both Brennan and Alvarez.
Murphy also said he plans to ask the head of the state’s Division of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action to review administration policies.