After three days of news coverage, Attorney General Jeff Chiesa and State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes gave reporters their side of the escort story. Basically, they’re appalled that two members of the State Police appear to have led a high-speed caravan of luxury sports cars down the Garden State Parkway.
Escorts happen all the time, they say, but not like this.
“The State Police does hundreds of these escorts annually. We protect dignitaries, heads of state …” said Fuentes.
Chiesa added, “They’re done to promote public safety. They’re done so that these groups, however large they are, or the dignitaries that are being protected, are transported safely. And this escort, from the information that we have, went in the exact opposite direction and actually put the public at risk.”
Chiesa and Fuentes suspended Sgt. Nadir Nassry and Trooper Joseph Ventrella without pay Monday pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
Fuentes says he’s disturbed at the involvement of Nassry, a 25-year field trooper with many commendations. “Twelve years ago, he rescued an occupant from a burning car and for this to come along at this point in time, and late in his career, is what I have said I find to be very disturbing. It doesn’t absolve us from the actions we have to take but it’s very unfortunate.”
Nassry’s attorney said last night on NJ Today that his client is being scapegoated.
Nassry has not been interviewed yet by the State Police, according to Fuentes. He says the force was already investigating the incident before Sunday’s Star-Ledger article, as well as an earlier incident seen in a video from 2010. The caravan this March included NFL player Brandon Jacobs and members of the Drive Force Club, but Jacobs’ agent said the former Giant knew nothing about a police escort.
According to Fuentes, commanders up and down the chain can authorize an escort. “What I’ve seen over the years is they make tremendous, sound decisions on the conduct of these escorts, which makes this particular escort all the more disturbing,” said Fuentes.
Is it embarrassing?
“I think any time something like this happens, it causes you to hang your head a little bit,” said Fuentes. “That’s what’s so unfair because so many of our troopers and commanders are doing this type of patrol-related escort task effectively and safely.”
Fuentes said he wouldn’t try to get inside the heads of these two troopers, but he promised a quick inquiry.
Reporting from Trenton, Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron files this report.