BORDENTOWN TOWNSHIP – A man says he was beaten by a drunk off-duty cop who called him a ‘fucking Jewish boy’ in a hotel lobby, but he is now being treated as a defendant instead of a victim.
Although her story is corroborated by a hotel employee who was also assaulted, the city prosecutor insists on charging a pair of embattled officers as well as the man who was beaten up in front of his child.
Initial media and police reports described the Aug. 20 incident at the Best Western hotel on Route 206 as a “fight,” but Christopher Lopez, 61, said that was inaccurate.
“There was no fight. I was assaulted,” Lopez told New Jersey 101.5, which obtained police camera video at the scene.
Even one of the on-duty cops who responded agreed with Lopez that charging her seemed “ridiculous,” but she filed charges anyway.
Indiana’s father suffered injuries to his right eye, back and neck in addition to cuts and bruises to his body. A doctor told her that the injuries to her back and neck could take a whole year to heal.
Argues self-defense but is charged with assault
Despite insisting he was defending himself and his 11-year-old son, Lopez faces the same simple assault charge as Mercer County Sheriff’s Officer Matt Sickler and Trenton cop Tara Dzurkoc. 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 the charges against the three of them in exchange for Sickler and Dzurkoc undergoing treatment for alcoholism.
With the help of a public defender, Lopez said he would fight the recommendation and demand serious penalties. Their next court appearance is scheduled for the second week of December.
Best western combat cam footage
Bordentown Township Police body camera footage obtained by New Jersey 101.5 via a public records request shows a chaotic scene that officers had to defuse before they could analyze the details.
In the footage, the hotel worker says Lopez was trying to book a room in the lobby of the Best Western shortly before 11:30 p.m. when Sickler, the off-duty sheriff’s officer, walked in with a bottle of liquor in his hand . When Sickler started making comments to Lopez, the clerk told him to leave, which he did.
But 10 minutes later, the off-duty officer returned. Lopez pulled out her phone to call the police for help.
“[Lopez] called the police and the guy assaulted him,” the employee 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 employee said, adding that she had been punched in the back of the head. “She just pushed me to the ground and started kicking my head. I broke my glasses and everything.”
A Bordentown Township cop said the pair of officers were “hammered”.
“Obviously he’s very drunk,” patrol officer Brianna Bogden said of Sickler. She later added that Dzurkoc had been “obliterated”.
Lopez also said that Dzurkoc was so drunk that she tripped several times before the fight.
Responding officer calls charges ‘ridiculous’
In the aftermath, Lopez asked the patrol if the off-duty officer who attacked him would be allowed to “walk.” The patrol officer felt that Sickler should be handcuffed, but that he was off duty, law enforcement complicated the situation.
“I don’t think I’m at fault here,” Lopez replied. “I’m a guy who was trying to check in and someone is harassing me. I called 911.”
The patroller 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 attacks me?” López wondered.
“Because you signed up,” Bogden replied. “Trust me, I know. It’s ridiculous.”
The off-duty sheriff’s officer told Bordentown Township officers a different story. Sickler claimed he was only trying to check in his room and that Lopez knocked first.
Sickler said the man used an open hand to push him away, but he did not specify what led to the shoving. Sickler then claimed he chose to leave the first time around and did not include that the clerk told him to leave.
“When he gets skilled, he got what he deserved,” Sickler said. “But unfortunately he hit me first both times. The first time I left. The second time he deserved it.”
Sickler also gave a fake name for his girlfriend. He told Bordentown Township police that Dzurkoc’s name was “Erin Harhay”. Sickler and Dzurkoc each received a summons for obstruction.
Sheriff’s officer accused of anti-Semitism
While talking to the patrol car, Lopez said the off-duty sheriff’s officer repeatedly taunted him and called him a ‘fucking Jew’ and a ‘dirty Jewish boy’ multiple times before the attack. Although Lopez said he’s not Jewish, he told New Jersey 101.5 that hate speech should have been taken more seriously.
“He’s obviously a racist and an anti-Semite,” Lopez said. He wondered if the remarks were ignored because officers didn’t want to “cross the blue line”.
“I am disgusted by [Sickler] but I’m also disgusted by the way the police handled this.”
Bodycam footage did not show Bordentown Township cops following Sickler over the comments.
However, Bordentown Township Police Chief Brian Pesce told New Jersey 101.5 in a statement 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 alleged bias incident,” Pesce said. “After several attempts to contact him, the detective conducted an interview with Mr. Lopez shortly after the incident.”
Pesce said the detective spoke with the Burlington County District Attorney’s Office and the state’s Criminal Justice Division and “probable cause has not been determined for the filing of crimes related to the bias in this case”.
The chief said Bordentown Township officers quickly laid charges after the incident and later added more charges.
“As 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 case pending the outcome of a hearing. Cerino, however, noted that an internal affairs investigation has been opened and Sickler has been placed on desk duty.
“Our agency and IA need to wait for the court to act before taking any kind 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 has also been opened. Trenton spokesman Timothy Carroll said it was “ongoing.”
Lawyers 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 [email protected]
Click here to contact an editor about a comment or correction for this story.
KEEP READING: Scroll to see what the headlines were the year you were born
WATCH: 31 jaw-dropping images from the NASA Public Library
What would happen to NJ if we were attacked by nuclear weapons?
Models show what would happen during an air detonation, meaning the bomb would be detonated into the sky, causing extensive damage to structures and people below; or what would happen in a detonation on the ground, which would have the alarming result of nuclear fallout. The models do not take into account the number of casualties that would result from the fallout.