Andrew Kara was one of more than two dozen Bergen County cops laid off in 2017 as part of a budget crunch that followed the merger of the sheriff’s and county police forces. It’s been a contentious issue for years now and is spilling over into the upcoming county executive race. But Kara says Tuesday’s demonstration was not about that. His lawyer says it’s about standing up for a gay officer who has been treated cruelly by his supposed colleagues and the county’s leadership structure.
“Andrew was called a fag, a queer, a freak and a homo. Even though he was a combat veteran, he was mocked as being girlish, as if somehow being called girlish connotates weakness,” said Kara’s attorney, Matthew Peluso.
The abuse went on for years and, according to a suit, the County Executive Jim Tedesco, County Sheriff Michael Saudino and the county prosecutor, now state attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, ignored his complaints.
“Andrew reported this conduct up the chain of command and nothing ever happened,” added Peluso. “So, at the end of the day, he has to bear responsibility for that.”
A statement from the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office said, “The allegations made in the lawsuit were the first time the sheriff and the county learned of any complaints that Officer Kara may have had with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office concerning his employment.”
Demonstrators outside the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack said they wanted to shame the county’s leadership, mostly Democrats, for ignoring the LGBTQ community when it suited their political needs.
“We are the people,” said PBA Local 49 President Chris Weston. “It shouldn’t matter that they just get our vote. If they want to stand on a platform and ask you to support them, then where are they when you need their support? They’re not here.”
Organizers insisted that this was not a partisan political event, although the speakers included Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate and political agitator Bill Brennan.
“Where are the Democrats who got elected on the LGBT community? Where are they today?” shouted Brennan. “The silence of my friends is more painful than the words of my enemies.”
Schepisi added, “In this day and age, there is no room and no place for the type of intolerance that Andrew faced while trying to do his job. It is wrong, it is wrong, regardless of whether or not you’re male, female, straight, gay, Republican, Democrat. It is wrong.”
The suit, which has 21 plaintiffs in all alleging a variety of harassment, is calling for reinstatement of the officers, including Kara, back pay, as well as punitive damages for pain and suffering. The Governor’s Office says it takes these matters seriously, but, in the end, wouldn’t comment on it because of the pending litigation.