Passaic cop blames politics

24 06 2009

CLIFTON — Officer Erica Rivera, one of the two Passaic police officers suspended in connection with a case of alleged police brutality, spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since a video was released of her partner striking an unarmed man with his fist and a baton. Buy this photo Rivera, who is seen on the video pacing around her partner, Officer Joseph J. Rios III, as he wrestled with the Passaic resident, did not speak about the incident itself but said her suspension was a result of political wrangling in City Hall. Specifically, she and her attorney, Miles Feinstein, said Mayor Alex D. Blanco suspended Rivera without pay because she is married to former Mayor Samuel Rivera’s son. “I think at this time, it’s personal, and Rios was suspended with pay for something more serious,” Rivera said in an interview at Feinstein’s Clifton office. “I think they should have looked at all the positive things I’ve done for the last six years and [I] should not have been suspended.” On May 29, Rios struck Ronnie Holloway in the face with his fist and used his baton several times, according to the video, which sparked a protest in front of City Hall against police brutality. The video shows Rios throwing Holloway against the hood of his cruiser and then throwing him to the ground, at which point he punches Holloway in the face and strikes him with his baton as Holloway lies on his back. Rios was first suspended with pay, but Blanco — under intense public pressure — changed his mind and issued Rios’ suspension without pay. Rivera was immediately suspended without pay and Feinstein believes it is because she is related to former Mayor Rivera, who is in federal prison on corruption charges. “The differential could very well be her last name,” Feinstein said. City spokesman Keith Furlong declined comment on the Rivera family allegations from Feinstein, but issued a statement from Blanco. “The administration is confident that they have taken the appropriate disciplinary action and we’re certain that all facts will come out in the ongoing investigation,” he said. Rivera declined to comment through Feinstein about whether she thought Rios acted properly or about her actions during the incident. Rivera did not physically get involved with Holloway, but she allegedly filed a false police report of the incident, saying she was struck several times with Rios’ baton by accident. The video appears to contradict that report. Neither Rivera nor Feinstein commented on the charges filed against her. The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the incident. During Thursday’s interview, Feinstein said Blanco acted hastily when he suspended his client, which cast a veil of guilt in the public perception. “To take away the presumption of innocence is an absolute disgrace,” Feinstein said. “What concerns us at this point is the suspension without pay. It came at a time when she has not been charged criminally. She still has not been charged criminally.” Rivera’s interview on Thursday comes more than a week after Rios held a news conference claiming he did nothing wrong. “On behalf of Officer Rios, our position is that neither Officer Rios nor Officer Rivera did anything wrong and do not deserve to be suspended without pay,” Rios’ attorney, Anthony Iacullo, said Thursday. E-mail:




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