A New Jersey sheriff who was caught on tape making racist remarks just resigned
The sheriff of New Jersey’s most populous county resigned Friday following calls for him to step down, after the publication of an audio recording in which he made racist remarks about blacks as well as the state’s Sikh attorney.
After the governor and others called for his resignation, Michael Saudino and four deputies submitted their resignations, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Facebook.
NPR affiliate WNYC published comments Thursday from a secret taping it said it had obtained of Saudino, who is white, making the bigoted remarks after the inauguration of Phil Murphy, a Democrat who succeeded Republican Chris Christie in January as the state’s governor.
A man the station identified as Saudino is heard talking to colleagues about Murphy’s speech.
“He talked about the whole thing, the marijuana, sanctuary state … better criminal-justice reform,” he says of the governor. “Christ almighty, in other words let the blacks come in, do whatever … they want, smoke their marijuana, do this, do that, and don’t worry about it. You know, we’ll tie the hands of cops.”
Later Saudino says that Gurbir Grewal, the first Sikh attorney general in the country, was appointed by Murphy solely because of his religion.
“He didn’t do that to help Bergen County. He did that because of the turban,” he says.
Saudino apologized for the remarks Thursday evening but did not address the swelling number of calls for his resignation.
“At this time I would like to offer my sincere apology to the people of Bergen County for the insensitive recorded remarks that were made public today,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Murphy said in a statement sent before Saudino’s apology that “anyone using racist, homophobic, and hateful language is unfit for public office.”
“If indeed that is Sheriff Saudino’s voice on the recording, he must resign,” he said.
Saudino, who switched parties to become a Democrat in 2016 after running as a Republican previously, will be up for reelection next year, WNYC reported.
Grewal told WNYC that he has worked with Saudino for two years and that he was surprised by the remarks.
“If that’s in fact Sheriff Saudino’s voice, then he should resign immediately,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’ve got thick skin and I’ve been called far worse. But the comments about the African American community are wrong, racist, and hurtful. The comments about our Lieutenant Governor are inappropriate and homophobic. New Jersey and Bergen County deserve better.”
Earlier this year, two hosts of a conservative-leaning radio show in New Jersey were suspended after making fun of Grewal’s turban, saying that they didn’t remember his name and preferred to call him “turban man.”
In the recording, Saudino also wonders about the sexuality of the state’s lieutenant governor, Sheila Oliver, a Democrat, who is unmarried.
“Is she gay?” he asks, according to WNYC, “because she’s never been married.”
“Obviously the sheriff is a relic of an era gone by,” Oliver said, according to WNYC. “Diversity and inclusion should be top priorities for him as a law enforcement official in a county such as Bergen — how ignorant.”
Saudino’s statement said that he reached out to “several respected leaders” in the communities he offended to ask for forgiveness.
There are nearly 1 million residents in Bergen County, about 20 percent of whom are Latino, 17 percent Asian and 7 percent black, according to Census Bureau figures cited by WNYC.
Before he was sheriff of the county, Saudino was the police chief of Emerson, a predominantly white borough in the state, WNYC reported.
Sheriff’s Office Chief Kevin Pell will be in charge of the department’s operations until the governor appoints an interim sheriff.
The statement said the sheriff’s office would not provide any further statements.