A New Jersey sheriff caught on tape making racist and homophobic remarks ultimately resigned Friday afternoon, taking four top members of his staff with him.
Michael Saudino had been the sheriff of Bergen County, New Jersey, for eight years, though he came under fire recently for filling the county jail with undocumented immigrants in coordination with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. On the recording obtained by WNYC, Saudino questioned the sexual orientation of the state’s lieutenant governor because she is unmarried, said the state’s attorney general’s “turban” is the reason he got elected (he’s the first Sikh attorney general in the country), and said the governor’s criminal justice reform ideas would “let the blacks come in, do whatever the fuck they want.”
The conversation was recorded hours after Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s inauguration speech in January in which Murphy called for legalizing marijuana. Murphy and Gurbir Grewal, the state’s attorney general, immediately began calling for Saudino to resign.
“Without question, the comments made on that recording are appalling, and anyone using racist, homophobic and hateful language is unfit for public office,” Murphy said in a statement Thursday.
“New Jersey and Bergen County deserve better,” Grewal said in a statement. Bergen County is the largest county in New Jersey and went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Hispanics make up 20 percent of the county’s population, Asians 17 percent, and blacks 7 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
Saudino was elected in 2010 as a Republican, switched parties to run as a Democrat in 2016, and is up for re-election next year. This year, Saudino packed the county’s jail with undocumented immigrants, many non-criminals, earning his office $12 million from ICE. The jail now holds more ICE detainees than people of Bergen County charged with crimes, WNYC reported. In contrast to other New Jersey jails that detain immigrants for ICE, the Bergen County Jail that Saudino presides over doesn’t allow immigrants to have face-to-face visits with family, citing concerns about contraband.
On Friday, Saudino released a statement apologizing for the racist and homophobic remarks on the tape, but didn’t acknowledge the calls for him to step down: “These remarks are not representative of the person that I am, and they are in no way consistent with the manner in which I have conducted my life personally and as a law enforcement professional."
On late Friday afternoon, Saudino announced his resignation, along with four Bergen County undersheriffs.