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You are here: Home News "Beyond Bergen" - News From Across New Jersey Another slap in the face for Katie Brennan | Moran

News From "Beyond Bergen"

Another slap in the face for Katie Brennan | Moran

Prosecutors in Middlesex failed to interview key witnesses, and asked Brennan only one question: How much did she drink on the night in question?

I was one of the naive fools who felt relieved when Attorney General Gurbir Grewal moved the rape case against Al Alvarez to Middlesex County for a second look in October, after Hudson County decided against pressing charges.

A fresh look made great sense, given revelations that the Hudson County Prosecutor, Esther Suarez, had profound conflicts of interest in the case. She had known Alvarez since 2003. And during the investigation, she was on the short list to be Gov. Phil Murphy's next attorney general, while Alvarez was a senior advisor to the governor's campaign.

But I was dead wrong to feel relieved. Because Middlesex prosecutors did not conduct a fresh investigation into Katie Brennan's charge of rape after all. They didn't start from scratch. They relied heavily on the investigative work done in Hudson instead.

What sense does that make? If the conflicts in Hudson raised doubts about the integrity of the investigation, why would Middlesex rely on their work? How could that possibly reassure Brennan, or the public, that she was getting a fair shake?

Investigators in Middlesex did not bother to talk to Brennan's husband, who she called immediately after Alvarez left her apartment. They did not talk to her close friend, who rushed over to hold her hand while her husband flew back from a business trip abroad. How could they assess Brennan's credibility without taking those basic steps?

And while they did invite Brennan in to tell her story, they asked only one question, according to her lawyer, Alan Zegas, who was present.

"They asked her how much she had been drinking," he said. "And they took few, if any, notes."

I don't know what happened that night, and the truth is no one but Alvarez and Brennan know for sure. He says it was consensual, she says it wasn't, and there is apparently no forensic evidence to break that tie.

And so far, no one has presented evidence showing that Suarez meddled in the investigation. Grewal exonerated her, and the chief assistant supervising rape cases, John Mulkeen, says he made the decision against filing charges on his own.

But neither Mulkeen nor Grewal would comment when asked if Suarez knew about the investigation. That's curious. Grewal's exoneration letter skips around that question, and Mulkeen refused to discuss it, even though he freely discussed the points that reflected well on his boss.

Suarez says she knew nothing of the investigation, but many people find that hard to believe, including members of the Legislature's investigative committee. They have asked for e-mails from three specific dates in April and May of 2017, just as the investigation began. Suarez has refused to hand them over. Several sources said those e-mails discussed evidence in the case and were sent to Suarez. A subpoena is likely, so we'll probably find out more.

In the meantime, Suarez seems to be preparing an ignorance defense: "My role is not to read documents and files all day long," she said when asked about the e-mails by Craig McCarthy of NJ Advance Media. "I have to trust that other people are doing what they need to do."

Think about Brennan, having to wonder whether Suarez knew, whether Hudson's investigation was tainted, and why Middlesex wouldn't talk to her husband and best friend to help assess her credibility. Imagine what it felt like to her when she read a press release from Middlesex saying they found "no credible evidence" of rape.

This is exactly why ethics laws talk about avoiding the "appearance" of a conflict. The appearance itself raises doubts that no victim should have to endure.

If Grewal's purpose was to remove suspicions, then he should have insisted that Middlesex conduct a fresh investigation of its own, from the top. He left that up to Middlesex prosecutors, and he won't explain why. Middlesex won't discuss the case either.

Grewal is a star in the Murphy administration, for good reason. But he's blowing this assignment. The Legislature needs to ask him if he knew about the e-mails that were reportedly sent to Suarez, and if so, why he exonerated her.

While they're at it, they could ask him why Middlesex ignored the protocols on rape investigations he issued just a few months ago. "It is vital that prosecutors explain to victims - in a respectful and compassionate way - that sometimes criminal charges are simply not viable, and that a prosecutor can decline to charge a sexual assault case for a variety of reasons unrelated to the victim's credibility," the directive says.

Middlesex sent an e-mail to Brennan's attorney, and issued a press release saying they found no credible evidence of rape, a message that suggests they believe Brennan was lying, even without doing the legwork needed to assess her credibility. Respectful and compassionate? Not so much.

Facing scandal and fiscal crisis, Murphy's challenges deepen | Moran

I can't second guess the final decision of prosecutors in Hudson or in Middlesex. Rape charges are notoriously difficult to prove, and discussing the evidence in public would be monstrously unfair to Alvarez, who deserves the presumption of innocence.

But we can conclude this: New Jersey's criminal justice system mistreated Brennan from start to finish, just as Murphy's senior aides mistreated her. That's bound to discourage women who are raped from coming forward. And that's a tragedy.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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