State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Tuesday released his report on whether changes were needed to how the state’s prosecutors handle sexual assault and harassment cases.
Gov. Phil Murphy called for such an examination as one leg of his response to state housing agency chief of staff Katie Brennan’s sexual assault allegations against former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez.
Grewal’s report comes alongside a directive that issues a list of procedural changes, including ones requiring, among other things, that law enforcement agencies report sexual assault incidents to county prosecutors within 24 hours of receiving them and consult with the victim before issuing any plea deal to the accused.
“While much has been done through the years to make law enforcement, healthcare professionals, and other service providers more responsive to the needs of sexual assault victims, there is always room for re-examination and improvement,” Grewal said. “The directive and standards issued today are the result of outstanding collaboration among law enforcement, the service community, and advocates for sexual assault survivors. Moreover, these documents provide for increased input from victims and further evaluation of these issues going forward.”
The new standards focus on improving the system for victims and include a focus on victim feedback and identifying roadblocks that some victims face when reporting incidents of sexual assault.
In 2019, Police officers in the state will be required to take a three-hour training course on handling sexual assault.
Brennan has accused Alvarez of assaulting her in 2017, when they were both staff members of Murphy’s campaign. Alvarez resigned from his post at the SDA after receiving an inquiry about the matter from the Wall Street Journal.
Her case has since put Murphy under fire, and a special committee investigating Alvarez’s hiring and the handling of Brennan’s case will hold its hearing on Dec. 4, when Brennan is expected to testify before the bicameral panel.
Brennan reported her alleged assault to authorities but the office of Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez opted to not pursue a case. That decision, which came roughly one year after the alleged assault, left Brennan with little time to mount a civil case against Alvarez before the two-year statute of limitations for such cases expired.
Grewal’s directive requires prosecutors meet with the victim to discuss reasons for not pursuing charges in such cases.
Murphy called for an independent investigation by former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice peter Verniero and a review of the state’s handling of sexual assault and harassment cases by Mamta Patel, director of the state’s Division of Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action, in addition to Grewal’s examination of prosecutors’ handling of such cases.
In October, Murphy said he expects Verniero’s investigation to release its findings before the end of the year.
“These new policies and procedures will make many meaningful changes to how sexual assault victims are treated and how prosecutions are handled in our state,” Murphy said. “Specifically, they will expand the role of confidential sexual assault advocates for victims, require data reporting and evaluation on sexual assault prosecutions, mandate that law enforcement report sexual assault incidents to county prosecutors within 24 hours, and, if charges are not pursued, require a supervisor’s signoff and provide victims with an opportunity to meet with prosecutors to discuss the decision.”