N.J. sheriff fatally shoots himself in restaurant
Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik was described as “an exemplary law enforcement leader”
Editor’s Note: Suicide is always preventable. If you are having thoughts of suicide or feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately at 988. Counselors are also available to chat at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Remember: You deserve to be supported, and it is never too late to seek help. Speak with someone today.
By Chris Sheldon and Richard Cowen
CLIFTON, N.J. — Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik fatally shot himself Tuesday afternoon inside a Clifton restaurant, multiple sources and officials confirmed.
The incident happened Toros Restaurant, a Turkish restaurant on Hazel Street, they said.
The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the shooting but did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office or local police.
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said he was at City Hall when he heard news, then raced over to Toros, where the swarms of police officers and the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office was on the scene. Sayegh said he was with Berdnik at City Hall on Monday, at a swearing-in ceremony for eight Paterson police officers.
“My last words to Sheriff Berdnik were, ‘Hey, get in the picture,’” Sayegh recalled.
Sayegh said he was fond of Berdnik, who would dispatch his sheriff’s officers when the city needed help.
“I affectionately called Sheriff Berdnik ‘America’s Sheriff,’” Sayegh said. “He was an exemplary law enforcement leader and a cherished friend. Whether it was the pandemic or the recent floods, Sheriff Berdnik was always available to offer assistance.”
Sayegh had earlier in the day presented a key to the city to the owner of Toros, Huseyin Bayram. The restaurant, which also has a location in Paterson and another in Montclair, was honored for donating 10,000 meals to hospital staff during the coronavirus pandemic.
Passaic County Commissioner Bruce James said the commissioners were set to meet at 5:30 p.m. when they got word that Sheriff Berdnik had died by suicide.
Texts appeared on commissioners’ phones that Berdnik was dead of an apparent suicide, he told NJ Advance Media.
“Right before the meeting the phones blew up, and there were reports that the sheriff had killed himself,” James said.
James said commissioners were in shock over the news, and the meeting was subsequently cancelled.
John Bartlett, the director of the Passaic County Board of Commissioners, said everyone was “shocked and devastated” by the news.
“Rich was an exemplary law enforcement officer and a great partner to the Board of County Commissioners ,” Bartlett said. “Our prayers are with his wife Monica, their children and grandchildren, and with the Sheriff’s colleagues and friends in grief.”
Someone at the restaurant answered the phone Tuesday evening and said it was closed.
The news of his death rang across the state.
Gov. Phil Murphy said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of his death.
“Tammy and I were blessed to have counted Sheriff Berdnik as a close friend,” Murphy said in a statement. “We will miss him — and his leadership — dearly.”
The governor’s office also urged law enforcement officers struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts to seek help.
Ringwood Borough Deputy Mayor Jaime Landis sent her condolences to Berdnik’s family.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts to hear about the passing of Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik,” she wrote on Facebook. “I had the honor of being in his company on some instances and he was kind, professional and respected.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9th Dist., said he was shocked to learn of the sheriff’s death.
“I am still processing this and waiting to learn more details,” Pascrell said. “I am thinking and praying for his family and the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department. I cannot believe this right now.”
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D- N.J., also sent his condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Berdnik.
“Sheriff Berdnik was a longtime public servant with a distinguished career in law enforcement who rose to become sheriff of his home county,” Booker said. “He leaves behind a legacy of sacrifice and service. His passing is a terrible loss to the county and state he served for so many years. My thoughts are with his loved ones in this time of grief.”
Berdnik’s death comes a week after three Passaic County jail officers were charged with beating an inmate who they said threw urine on their coworker, according to charges filed by the U.S. Justice Department.
“I am well aware that there is much confusion and stress during this very difficult time in our agency,” Berdnik’s memo read, according to the report. “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 at this time.”
Berdnik, a Democrat, was sworn in as the 49th sheriff of Passaic County in 2011 and was elected to a fifth term in 2022, according to his bio on the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office web site.
Prior to becoming sheriff, Berdnik had a 28-year career with the Clifton Police Department and upon retirement, he was the Commander of the Juvenile Division and the SWAT Team and previously had served in nearly every position in the agency.
He is a graduate of Clifton High School, New Jersey State Police Academy, FBI National Academy and FBI National Executive Institute and was married with four adult children.
Editor’s Note: NJ Advance Media typically limits reporting on suicides to those that occur in crowded public places, involve public figures or, in special circumstances, where there is a larger public impact. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors can be reduced with the proper mental health support and treatment. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.