Brennan to sue Gov. Murphy over mishandling of staff rape claim
TRENTON — In what is shaping up to be the biggest scandal of Gov. Phil Murphy's term, a state employee says she intends to sue the administration over its handling of her accusations that a campaign staffer, who was later hired by the administration, sexually assaulted her.
In a notice of tort claim, the first step in suing a public entity in New Jersey, Katie Brennan says she intends to hold Murphy as well as other officials in his campaign and administration accountable.
Brennan, who testified before a legislative panel last year, says Albert Alvarez raped her in her home on April 8, 2017, during Murphy's gubernatorial campaign. She said she told several officials in Murphy's administration. Alvarez has denied the allegations but resigned from the New Jersey Schools Development Authority, to which he was appointed after administration officials had learned about Brennan's accusation.
She said the administration acted “unlawfully, intentionally, negligently and/or with reckless indifference” in handling her accusation, which inflicted “emotional distress."
The complaint outlines the timeline of events Brennan told the Wall Street Journal last October around the time of Alvarez's resignation. Brennan, who is the chief of staff of the N.J. Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, said that shortly after the assault she notified her friend Justin Braz, who is now Murphy's deputy chief of staff, as well as Jersey City police and the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office. For months, Braz acted as a go-between for Brennan and Murphy officials.
According to Brennan, Assistant Prosecutor Jane Weiner told her the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office would not press charges because the sexual assault examination found DNA evidence but it was deemed "not strong enough," and that Alvazez had insisted that the incident was consensual.
After the accusations were detailed by the press, a review of the investigation by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal concluded the case had been reviewed by "career detectives" and "veteran special victims prosecutors" and found no wrongdoing by investigators.
Brennan's notice says the Governor's Office chief ethics officer told her in April that the administration intended to not do anything because neither she nor Alvarez had been state employees at the time of the alleged assault.
Brennan's notice quotes the response email from Gov. Murphy and his wife, Tammy to Brennan's email of June 1 in which she requested a meeting about a "sensitive matter" that occurred during the campaign.
"Katie we know you well. Adding our respective teams to get on with scheduling something. Hang in. We are on it. If we prove not to be fast enough don't hesitate to come back to Tammy or me directly. Many thanks. Phil and Tammy M[.]"
When reporters later asked Murphy about his email exchange with Brennan, the governor said the term “I’m on it” is a phrase he uses "in lots of different interactions.” Murphy has not testified before the Legislature.
Murphy's office has declined to comment on the notice.
Last month, it was revealed that Murphy's chief of staff and chief counsel each directed Alvarez to seek other employment, once in March 2018 and then again in June. But they stopped short of firing him.
Chief of Staff Pete Cammarano told lawmakers he thought it was clear that he intended Alvarez to leave, though he stayed on until the newspaper story was about to be published in October.
After Brennan's claims became public, Murphy said he wished Alvarez wasn't hired but he defended how his transition team and administration acted.
He also appointed former state Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero to investigate the matter and asked the state's Division of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action to review administration policies.
The notice does not estimate an amount of damages Brennan claims she has suffered.
In addition to Murphy and his office, the notice lists the following people as potential defendants:
- Attorney General Gurbir Grewal
- Chief of Staff Peter Cammarano
- Chief Counsel Matt Platkin
- Deputy Chief Counsel Parimal Garg
- Chief Ethics Officer Heather Taylor
- Deputy Chief of Staff Justin Braz
- Jonathan Berkon, of the firm Perkins Cole, who worked as transition counsel
- Rajiv Parikh, of the firm Genova Burns, who worked as transition counsel
The Associated Press contributed to this report.