Independent probe clears Murphy administration in handling of sex assault accusation

David Madden
February 06, 2019 - 5:25 pm
Gov. Phil Murphy

Kevin R. Wexler/NorthJersey.com via USA Today Images

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TRENTON, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) — An external investigation following a Murphy administration staffer's accusations of sexual assault against a colleague has officially concluded.

Campaign worker Katie Brennan said she was raped in 2017 during the gubernatorial campaign of Phil Murphy by former aide Albert Alvarez, who left the administration in October. 

In the more than 70-page report from former state Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero, it concluded the system effectively failed Brennan.

There was no clear chain of command when it came to who actually hired Alvarez, and no one knows for sure who made the call. Both he and Brennan went to work for the administration after the campaign.

MORE: Second prosecutor declines filing charges against former Murphy aide

Brennan later privately related her story of the sexual assault to managers within the administration, and even sought a private meeting with Murphy. 

She never got it. In October, she took her story to The Wall Street Journal. 

Alvarez then resigned for his position, and has steadfastly maintained he broke no law. Two criminal investigations have ended with no charges filed, although Brennan has filed a civil suit.

The report suggested Alvarez's tenure with the Murphy administration should have ended far earlier than it did. The probe also concluded that Murphy was not aware of the incident until after The Wall Street Journal article was published.

MORE: Panel grills Murphy administration, campaign staff over rape allegations

"Knowing what I know now, I wish I was informed earlier by my team about Ms. Brennan's allegations," Murphy said in a statement. As for Alvarez, the governor said, "once the decision was made to separate him from state government, it should have been handled more swiftly and decisively."

The report suggests reforms in the entire transition system going forward. It also recommends improved methods in hiring and addressing issues of confidentiality when accusations surface. Murphy has committed to that and wants to review recommendations that may come from an ongoing legislative oversight committee investigation.

"Although we cannot turn back the clock," Murphy said, "we must endeavor to make New Jersey a better place for survivors of sexual assault, and do everything we can to ensure their voices are heard as they seek justice."

The governor also announced new policies earlier this week for handling accusations like Brennan's in the future, though her attorney questioned why there is still strict enforcement of a confidentiality directive, which the lawsuit seeks to end.

"Requiring survivors to keep their complaints confidential is a gross violation of their constitutional and statutory rights," added attorney Kate McClure in a statement.