Man was beaten by ‘drunk, anti-Semitic’ cop but NJ is charging him with a crime
BORDENTOWN TOWNSHIP — A man says he was beaten by a drunk off-duty cop who called him a "f**cking Jew boy" in the lobby of a hotel but is now being treated as a defendant instead of a victim.
Despite having his story corroborated by a hotel employee who was also assaulted, the municipal prosecutor is insisting on charging a pair of embattled officers as well as the man who got pummeled in front of his child.
Initial media and police reports described the incident on Aug. 20 at the Best Western hotel on Route 206 as a "fight" but Christopher Lopez, 61, said that's inaccurate.
"A fight didn't break out. I was assaulted," Lopez told New Jersey 101.5, which obtained police camera video from the scene.
Even one of the responding on-duty police officers agreed with Lopez that charging him seemed "ridiculous" but she filed the charges anyway.
The father from Indiana suffered injuries to his right eye, back, and neck in addition to cuts and bruises over his body. A doctor told him the back and neck injuries could take a full year to heal.
Argues self-defense but is charged with assault
Despite his insistence that he was defending himself and his 11-year-old son, Lopez is facing the same simple assault charge as Mercer County Sheriff's Officer Matt Sickler and Trenton cop Tara Dzurkoc. The law enforcement officers were dating at the time of the incident, The Trentonian reported.
According to Lopez, prosecutors at an Oct. 12 court hearing recommended dropping charges for all three of them in exchange for Sickler and Dzurkoc going into alcohol treatment.
With the help of a public defender, Lopez said he will fight the recommendation and demand serious punishments. Their next court appearance is scheduled for the second week of December.
Best Western fight bodycam footage
Bordentown Township police body camera footage obtained by New Jersey 101.5 through a public records request shows a chaotic scene that officers had to de-escalate before they could parse the details.
In the footage, the hotel clerk says that Lopez was trying to book a room in the Best Western lobby shortly before 11:30 p.m. when Sickler, the off-duty sheriff's officer, entered with a bottle of alcohol in hand. When Sickler started making comments to Lopez, the clerk told him to leave, which he did.
But then 10 minutes later, the off-duty officer returned. Lopez pulled out his phone to call police for help.
"[Lopez] called the police and the guy attacked him," the clerk said, clearly shaken.
As the clerk tried to separate the two, she said the other off-duty cop entered the lobby.
"[Dzurkoc] came in and she pulled me by the hair," the clerk recounted, adding she was punched in the back of the head. "She just pushed me to the floor and started kicking me in the head. Broke my glasses and everything."
One Bordentown Township cop commented that the police couple was "hammered."
"Obviously he's very drunk," Patrolwoman Brianna Bogden said of Sickler. She later added that Dzurkoc was "obliterated."
Lopez also stated Dzurkoc was so drunk she tripped over herself several times before the brawl.
Responding cop calls charges 'ridiculous'
In the aftermath, Lopez asked the patrolwoman if the off-duty officer who attacked him would be allowed to "walk." The patrolwoman opined that Sickler should be put in handcuffs but his being off-duty law enforcement complicated the situation.
"I don't think I'm at fault here," Lopez responded. "I'm a guy who was trying to check in and someone's harassing me. I called 911."
The patrolwoman explained that Sickler could press charges against Lopez because he fought back and it was a "mutual fight."
"How is it mutual if a guy is attacking me?" Lopez questioned.
"Because you engaged back," Bogden responded. "Trust me, I know. It's ridiculous."
The off-duty sheriff's officer told a different story to Bordentown Township officers. Sickler claimed that he was only trying to check into his room and that Lopez struck first.
Sickler said the man used an open hand to push him away, but he did not state what led to the shove. Sickler then claimed that he chose to leave the first time and did not include that he had been told to leave by the clerk.
"When he becomes handsy, he got what he deserved," Sickler said. "But unfortunately he hit me first both times. First time, I walked away. Second time, he earned it."
Sickler also gave a false name for his girlfriend. He told Bordentown Township police that Dzurkoc's name was "Erin Harhay." Sickler and Dzurkoc were each issued a summons for obstruction.
Sheriff's officer accused of anti-Semitism
While speaking to the patrolwoman, Lopez said that the off-duty sheriff's officer had taunted him repeatedly and called him a "f**cking Jew" and "dirty Jew boy" several times before the attack. While Lopez said he isn't Jewish, he told New Jersey 101.5 that the hateful speech should have been taken more seriously.
"He's obviously a racist and an anti-Semite," Lopez said. He questioned whether the remarks were overlooked because officers did not want to "cross the blue line."
"I'm disgusted by [Sickler] but I'm also disgusted by how the police handled this."
Bodycam footage did not show Bordentown Township cops following up with Sickler about the comments.
However, Bordentown Township Police Chief Brian Pesce told New Jersey 101.5 in a statement on Monday that the department "takes allegations of bias incidents very seriously and did so in this case."
"A detective was immediately assigned to follow up on Mr. Lopez’s bias incident allegation," Pesce said. "After several attempts were made to contact him, the detective conducted an interview with Mr. Lopez soon after the incident."
Pesce said that the detective conferred with the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and the state Division of Criminal Justice and that "probable cause was not determined for the filing of any bias-related crimes in this matter."
The chief added that Bordentown Township officers promptly filed charges after the incident and later added more charges.
'Since this is an ongoing legal matter our department has no further comment at this time," Pesce said.
Mercer County cops under investigation
Mercer County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ernest Cerino told New Jersey 101.5 earlier this month that the office could not comment on the matter pending the outcome of a court hearing. Cerino did note, however, that an Internal Affairs investigation has been opened and that Sickler has been placed on desk duty.
"Our agency and IA must wait for the court to act before taking any type of action," Cerino said. "The Mercer County Sheriff's Office prides itself on holding its officers to a high standard, and Sheriff Kemler has zero tolerance for such (alleged) behavior by an officer."
An Internal Affairs investigation into Dzurkoc was also opened. Trenton spokesman Timothy Carroll said that it is "ongoing."
Attorneys for Sickler and Dzurkoc did not respond to requests for comment.
Rick Rickman is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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