After Memo on 'Very Difficult Time,' a Sheriff's Tragic Death

Richard Berdnik, sheriff in Jersey's Passaic County, dies in apparent suicide in restaurant
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 25, 2024 11:35 AM CST
After Memo on 'Very Difficult Time,' a Sheriff's Tragic Death
Police and first responders arrive at Toros on Tuesday in Clifton, New Jersey.   (Anne-Marie Caruso/The Record via AP)

Condolences are pouring in for a New Jersey sheriff who apparently committed suicide Tuesday while dining at a Clifton restaurant. Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik was having lunch at Toros around 3:30pm when he visited a basement bathroom, where he was later found dead of what sources say was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, per WNBC. Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, who confirmed the death, said he'd seen the sheriff only the day before as they swore in eight new police officers. "My last words to him were, 'Sheriff, get in the picture with us,'" Sayegh says. "He was an exemplary law enforcement leader and he was a cherished friend."

Officers lined up outside the restaurant, saluting the ambulance that carried away Berdnik's body. "He was having lunch here with no problem, then all of [a] sudden this is happening. I came here because I couldn't believe it," Paterson Council President Alex Mendez told WNBC. "We not only lost a great sheriff, we lost a great friend, a phenomenal human being." New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he was "deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss" of Berdnik, "a close friend." He added he and his wife, Tammy, "will miss him—and his leadership—dearly."

A retired Clifton police officer elected to five consecutive three-year terms as sheriff, Berdnik had recently described a "very difficult time" for his department related to the closing of the Passaic County Jail. "I have done everything in my power to find employment for all affected employees, but unfortunately, we must move forward to lay off 29 correctional police officers," he wrote in a Jan. 18 memo, per USA Today. A day earlier, the FBI had arrested two Passaic County sergeants and a sheriff's officer on charges stemming from the alleged beating of a pretrial detainee at the jail in January 2021. It's unclear if any of this played a factor in the apparent suicide. (If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.)

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