LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Katie Brennan testifies assault allegation ‘went unheard’ by Murphy administration

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Katie Brennan gave powerful testimony to lawmakers about how the Murphy administration repeatedly sidelined her claims that she’d been raped in April 2017 by a former campaign staffer, Al Alvarez, until her story was published months later.

“I reported my attack to the campaign, transition committee, and administration and it went unheard. I asked to report my attack to the governor and first lady and my request went unheard. I, and no survivor, should have to tell their story to the newspaper to be heard,” Brennan said.

Brennan’s testimony riveted the 12-member Select Oversight Committee charged with investigating the case. Brennan detailed a timeline of events after the alleged attack, outlining what the Murphy administration knew and when they knew it. Brennan said the administration hired Alvarez at the Schools Development Authority, even though she had alerted Justin Braz, a good friend on Murphy’s transition team, and asked him to warn them about Alvarez.

“I do not know whom Justin Braz alerted on the transition counsel, he simply said that he was going to call transition counsel,” said Brennan.

Brennan said she fully expected the Hudson County prosecutor would charge Alvarez, who’s denied the allegations, but Hudson told her the case wasn’t strong enough. It’s now under review by the Middlesex County prosecutor. Regardless, Brennan kept trying to get the administration’s attention.

“I hoped for action. I hoped for justice in another form. It never came,” she said.

Meanwhile, the administration had also hired Brennan at the state’s housing and finance agency and she felt uncomfortable seeing Alvarez at work. This March, Brennan said she complained again, this time to Murphy’s chief counsel, Matt Platkin, who reportedly advised Alvarez’s boss to encourage him to leave his job, but nobody told Brennan what was going on.

“No one was saying, we’re going to do an internal investigation. We’re going to do a review. We’ll follow up on what you told us,” asked attorney Michael Critchley, counsel to the Select Committee.

“Not that I’m aware.” responded Brennan. “I wanted to stop Al Alvarez from ever attacking another woman again. I wanted survivors to receive justice. I wanted New Jersey to do better.”

And Alvarez did not leave. In April, Brennan spoke to a human resources official who told her the administration couldn’t force the issue because it happened during the campaign. In desperation, Brennan said, she finally emailed the governor in early June asking to discuss a “sensitive matter” and that he replied, “We know you well … Hang in. We’re on it.”

“Do you believe that the governor knew what the issue was you wanted to speak to him about,” asked someone on the committee.

“I don’t know. I said ‘sensitive matter’ and I did not clarify what the sensitive matter was,” replied Brennan. “It’s nice to have the governor email you back. I was very optimistic.”

But Brennan said she never got to meet with Murphy. Instead, his campaign lawyer Jonathan Berkon called to assure her Alvarez would soon quit. He didn’t. In fact, Alvarez stayed at his job until The Wall Street Journal called the Murphy administration about Brennan’s story in October.

“I had access to people in the highest positions of power in the state of New Jersey, and at each turn my pleas for help went unanswered. Somehow it wasn’t a priority to address my sexual assault and working with my rapist until it impacted them,” Brennan said.

Committee members reacted to how the administration apparently handled Brennan’s case.

“At least at some levels, there seemed to be a curious lack of asking about the details,” said co-chair Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

The Select Committee plans to meet again Dec. 18. There’s no witness list yet. The committee expects to release a report next year.