Woman says Murphy staffer raped her: ‘I learned the system is broken’
TRENTON — A woman who said a former member of the Murphy administration sexually assaulted her has publicly come forward with her allegations, which did not lead to criminal charges against the man who continued to work in state government until this month even though the woman reached out before the governor took office in January.
Katie Brennan's story was detailed Sunday in the Wall Street Journal, more than a week after Albert Alvarez resigned as chief of staff of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. Politico New Jersey reported earlier this month that Alvarez resigned due to allegations of sexual misconduct made during the transition. In her statement, Brennan told a much more serious story.
"On April 8th, 2017, Al Alvarez raped me. On April 9th, 2017, I learned the system is broken," she said Sunday following the report in the Wall Street Journal.
According to the story Brennan said the incident happened after a gathering of campaign staffers in Jersey City when Alvarez offered to drive her home and then asked to use her bathroom. Inside her home Brennan said Alvarez pushed her onto the a couch and forced himself on her.
"I say, 'Stop, why are you doing this?'" Ms. Brennan recounted in the story. "And then I straight up said" 'This is not consensual."
Brennan told the Journal that Alvarez did not stop until she was able to kick him off and run into a bathroom. After Alvarez left Brennan called her husband in Sweden and her best friend who came to stay with her, the Journal story said. Both her husband and her friend confirmed the account to the Journal.
The day after the attack Brennan called police, according to the story, and the day after that she went to Jersey City Medical Center to be evaluated. She said she sent a letter to Alvarez the following week, saying she had been sexually assaulted and asking her not to contact her again, the Journal said.
In a separate statement emailed to reporters, she said she had "pursued every form of justice available," and that it "has become clear that this system is not built for survivors." While she said the story in the Journal was accurate, she has received "no justice."
"I decided to come forward because I know that Al Alvarez, and all perpetrators, must be held accountable, must never rape again, and the justice system needs a complete change with regard to sexual violence," she said.
Accusations made by Brennan were investigated by the Hudson County Prosecutor's office, but no charges were filed. When she learned he would not be charged Brennan said she "just bawled," and "felt like I wasn't heard," she told to the Journal.
Alvarez, through an attorney, has denied wrongdoing. She told the Journal that Alvarez told prosecutors the encounter was consensual.
Alvarez worked for the Murphy campaign as a member of the transition team and then as an employee in the administration. The accusations against him were made during the transition and investigated but no charges were ever filed against him. Brennan' said "several senior members" of the administration were aware of the alleged assault, but "failed to take meaningful action."
Mahen Gunaratna, a spokesman for Murphy, confirmed to New Jersey 101.5 that the accusations against Alvarez had come to light during the transition. He was hired after a background check turned up no criminal charges. Gunaratna said Brennan had emailed the Murphys in June 2018 about a "sensitive matter," and the governor had forwarded the matter to his campaign counsel, who spoke to Brennan and her attorney.
The Murphys were first informed Oct. 2 that the matter to which Brennan referred to involved sexual assault, Gunaratna said. They were also told that the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office had investigated and declined to press charges. Gunaratna also said the Governor's Office learned of a separate accusation about Alvarez from either 1999 or 2000, which was also referred to the Attorney General's Office. The office learned of this new accusation on Oct. 11, Gunaratna said.
Brennan, who was a volunteer with the Murphy campaign and now works as the chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, said another challenge she faces is a two-year statute of limitations to file a civil suit.
"After spending an entire year pursuing a criminal case before hitting a dead end, and I am left with one year to pursue civil litigation," she said.
Murphy and his wife Tammy said in a statement to New Jersey 101.5 that "any allegation of sexual harassment, misconduct, or assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness to ensure that survivors come forward and justice is served."
"We are confident that this allegation was handled appropriately by the Administration and that current policies and procedures were properly and promptly followed," the statement from the Murphys said. "However, it is clear that the process during the Transition was inconsistent with our values, and the hire should not have happened. We must now ask: how can we hold ourselves to a higher standard moving forward."
Republican lawmakers have called for an investigation into how the allegations were handled, while Grewal said his office will be reviewing whether other members of the administration also should not have been hired.
Two Republican women state senators and four Republican assemblywomen on Thursday signed a letter to Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, both Democrats, calling for a bipartisan legislative investigation.
"Despite knowing the nature of the allegations, the Murphy Administration allowed him to remain in his position until resigning last week," the letter says. "The nature of these hires — one clearly illegal, the other morally reprehensible — leads to the appearance of a culture within the Murphy Administration that is more concerned with rewarding campaign supporters than serving the public interest.
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, who serves on the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, endorsed his party's call for an investigation.
“To preserve the public’s faith in our state government, we should hold legislative hearings to learn how the Governor’s hiring process broke down, and to determine if others were hired into the administration who shouldn’t be there," Kean said.
The administration has directed Mamta Patel, the director of the Statewide Division of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action, to review current policies and procedures for addressing allegations of sexual misconduct.
"Survivors continue to astound us with their bravery and determination," the Murphys said in their statement. "This administration will continue to respect and protect the rights of sexual assault victims, and work to ensure that their voices are heard in the pursuit of justice."
In recent weeks, two members of the Murphy administration have resigned under questionable circumstances. Before Alvarez's resignation was announced, former Passaic Councilman Marcellus Jackson resigned from his role as a special assistant with the Department of Education. At the time that his resignation was announced Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Jackson should never have been a candidate after pleading guilty to taking bribes in office.
Murphy has defended his hiring of Jackson, saying that even people convicted of a crime deserve a second chance. More recently it was reported by the New Jersey Globe that both Jackson and Alvarez were invited to a "mandatory fun" staff reunion in Princeton.
"It is clear that leadership from the Murphy administration is needed to create meaningful policy change on several levels to make sure future victims do not have to endure what I have," Brennan said in her statement.