A New Jersey police chief accused of making derogatory comments about the nation's first Sikh attorney general and the state's first Asian American county prosecutor is stepping down, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement Monday.
Fanwood Police Chief Richard Trigo told the prosecutor's office and borough council late Friday that he would be stepping down effective Monday, the statement said.
Trigo’s attorney, Joshua McMahon, told NBC News on Monday that the chief did not resign or quit.
"Any assertion to the contrary is categorically and demonstrably false," McMahon said. "Chief Trigo had previously begun the process to retire on Sept. 1, 2020 and, until that time, elected to take leave to handle a family-related health issue."
On July 4, an audio recording was posted to YouTube in which Trigo allegedly says former acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park "is pretty hot" and "she got wide ones." He also allegedly calls her "Chinese." Park was the first Asian American county prosecutor in New Jersey and the first woman and minority to lead the prosecutor’s office in Union County. Park is a member of the Council of Korean Americans.
Trigo also allegedly refers to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, the nation’s first Sikh state attorney general, as "that f------ guy with the turban" and says, "I wanna pull him like a top."
It is unclear when the alleged audio is from. The user who posted the video, Fanwood Exposed, could not be reached as there was no option to message the account on YouTube. Fanwood Exposed describes itself as a "news organization exposing the corruption, illegal activity, unethical, immoral, and hypocritical behavior by public officials" in the borough.
Acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo said in a statement Wednesday that her office has opened an investigation into the recording and that Trigo needs to "immediately step down" or disciplinary action must be initiated to remove him from office if it is authenticated.
In a statement Friday, Trigo's attorney said the recordings were "manipulated and spliced." McMahon declined to comment Monday when asked if he or Trigo disputes that the voice on the recording is Trigo's.
"Chief Trigo, the first Spanish police Chief in Fanwood’s history, denies making any inappropriate comments," McMahon said in a statement. "These altered recordings have unquestionably been manipulated and spliced together by persons upset with the reform and progress the Fanwood Police Department has made under Chief Trigo’s leadership, including the Chief personally hiring and promoting more minorities than any Chief in Fanwood's history."
McMahon also said Friday that Trigo "remains committed to the community and bringing people together, as he has done for nearly three decades." McMahon said he was confident Ruotolo "will abide by the long-standing norms of her office, and not comment on or prejudge the merits of any ongoing investigation, which the chief welcomes."
Grewal condemned the comments last week and said that if Trigo made them in front of other law enforcement officials, "they should have called out and reported the speaker's blatant misogyny and racism. Because when an officer behaves in this manner, it tarnishes the reputation and good work of the vast majority of officers who know that this conduct has no place in law enforcement or in our society."
“If the comments in the recording were, in fact, made by Chief Trigo, this is yet one more reason why we need to continue building a culture of accountability in policing in New Jersey," Grewal said in a statement. "Clearly, others were in the room when these comments were purportedly made by a law enforcement executive, and they did nothing."
Sharon Lauchaire, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, declined to comment Monday about Trigo stepping down.
Trigo did not immediately return requests for comment.
Ruotolo said Monday her office was exercising its supersession authority to temporarily oversee operations of the Fanwood Police Department.
Capt. Kevin Grimmer and detective Nicholas Falcicchio, both of the prosecutor's office, will assume control of day-to-day operations of the police force beginning Monday while a search is conducted for a new chief.