Hackensack, NJ – Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino resigned on Friday afternoon, after an audio tape of him making disparaging remarks about black people and several state officials surfaced the day prior.
Many people, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, deemed the remarks to be hate speech, and called for Sheriff Saudino to step down, WNYC reported.
"Without question, the comments made on that recording are appalling, and anyone using racist, homophobic, and hateful language is unfit for public office," Murphy said in a statement. "If indeed that is Sheriff Saudino's voice on the recording, he must resign."
Bergen County Undersheriff Robert Colaneri, Undersheriff Brian Smith, Undersheriff Joseph Hornyak, and Executive Undersheriff George Buono also submitted their resignations on Friday, but did not provide specific reasons for their abrupt, immediate departures, NJ.com reported.
The conversation was secretly recorded on Jan. 16, after Sheriff Saudino attended Murphy’s gubernatorial inauguration, WNYC reported.
The unnamed source of the recording said the sheriff made the statements in a county office building during a discussion with other staff members about Murphy’s speech.
"He talked about the whole thing, the marijuana, sanctuary state...better criminal justice reform,” Sheriff Saudino said in the recording. “Christ almighty, in other words let the blacks come in, do whatever the f--k they want, smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don't worry about it. You know, we'll tie the hands of cops."
At another point in the recording, the sheriff alleged that Murphy appointed Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, the nation’s first Sikh to hold such an office, “because of the turban.”
Later, Sheriff Saudino inquired as to whether Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver was homosexual.
“Is she gay?” the sheriff asked in the recording. “Because she’s never been married.”
The recordings were released by WNYC on Thursday morning.
Sheriff Saudino issued a statement the same evening, offering his “sincere apology to the people of Bergen County for the insensitive recorded remarks” he made.
“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,” Sheriff Saudino said in the statement.
He asked for forgiveness from the community, and said he personally “reached out directly to several respected leaders in the communities” he offended to offer his apologies, as well.
The department announced Sheriff Saudino’s immediate resignation at approximately 3 p.m. on Friday, NJ.com reported.
In light of the sheriff’s comments, an investigation into the department may be warranted, Grewal said.
"The fact that a top official could make racist comments about the African-American community - and that no one in the room would challenge or correct him - raises serious concerns," he said.
Grewal added that his office would confer with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office to determine “whether there are deeper issues that warrant a wider investigation,” NJ.com reported.
The attorney general said he was especially disappointed with the sheriff’s statements because the pair had worked together for two years, WNYC reported.
“[The comments are] inconsistent with the Mike Saudino I knew and worked with in Bergen County,” Grewal explained. “I think having worked with him for two years he would know better than most that I have law enforcement credentials…That’s why I got this nomination. Not simply because of the symbol of my religion.”
Grewal also noted that Sheriff Saudino's statements are not indicative of the attitudes held by a bulk of the department's employees.
"We cannot allow the actions of a few officials to taint the entire law enforcement community," Grewal said in a statement. "The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers in Bergen County and across New Jersey are honorable public servants who care deeply about the work they do an the way they do it."
"Their good work - performed day-in, day-out - is ultimately what will help repair the damage brought about by Sheriff Saudino's highly inappropriate comments," Grewal added.