Handling of sex assault claim in state government questioned

October 14, 2018 - 8:55 pm

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey state employee said Sunday she was sexually assaulted by a man who went on to work in Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's administration and tried for a year to get authorities to take action but with no result.

Katie Brennan told The Wall Street Journal she wants to see changes in how such allegations are handled in the state.

"At each turn, I've just felt so disappointed," Brennan, who is the chief of staff at the state housing and mortgage agency, told the newspaper. "I tried everything. And none of it worked. If I can't get any justice, I just don't seriously know who can."

The Associated Press does not identify people alleging sexual assault without their consent. Brennan came forward publicly in the Journal interview Sunday.

In a separate statement issued after the newspaper's account, Brennan said the details in the story were accurate.

She also said Murphy and the attorney general should work toward eliminating the statute of limitations on civil suits stemming from sexual assault as well as pursuing legislation to make sure sex-assault first responders are better trained. The legislature would have to pass a bill that eliminates the statute of limitations on civil suits stemming from sexual assault.

Brennan said that she was sexually assaulted by Albert Alvarez in April 2017 after a night at a bar with Murphy campaign staffers.

Alvarez's attorney, John Hogan, told the newspaper he "absolutely, positively denies these allegations."

She says Alvarez, who until earlier this month was the chief of staff at the state Schools Development Authority, drove her home and then asked to use the bathroom and for a drink of water. He then pushed her to the couch and forced himself on her, Brennan said.

She said she told him to stop and that it was not consensual. She said she was able to kick him off her and ran to the bathroom, where she locked herself inside.

She told the paper she called her husband, who was in Sweden at the time, immediately, as well as her best friend. The friend, Katy Baldwin, told the newspaper that Brennan told her about the attack.

The next day she went to police and the Jersey City Medical Center emergency department to be evaluated for sexual assault, she said. She said she checked in periodically with the Hudson County prosecutor's office on the investigation's progress.

Murphy was elected in November, and Alvarez went on to become a top official at the schools agency. A statement from Murphy spokesman Mahen Gunaratna said Alvarez cleared a background check and that the Hudson County Prosecutor also declined to pursue charges.

Brennan also said she emailed Murphy and first lady Tammy Murphy to tell them she wanted to discuss a "sensitive matter," though she did not detail the alleged assault.

In a joint statement the governor and first lady said they are confident the allegation was handled appropriately but are asking part of the state civil service to review how sexual assault allegations are handled.

"It is clear that the process during the Transition was inconsistent with our values, and the hire should not have happened. We must now ask: how can we hold ourselves to a higher standard moving forward?" the governor and first lady said.

Word of Alvarez's resignation from state government on Oct. 2 came to light last week and led to a number of news articles by various outlets, though the details of Brennan's identity and allegations were not clear.

That led Republicans to call for legislative inquiries into the Murphy administration's hiring practices.

Gunaratna said the governor first found out about the sexual assault allegations against Alvarez when he resigned.

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