Passaic County Sheriff fatally shoots himself, sources say

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By Dan Sears

The sheriff of Passaic County in New Jersey fatally shot himself inside a restaurant in Clifton, N.J., according to multiple reports and conversations with the mayors of Passaic and Paterson. It was unclear if the self-inflicted gunshot was intentional.

Richard Berdnik, 64, was finishing a meal at the Turkish restaurant Toros when he went into the bathroom and a gunshot was heard, sources told Gothamist. Passaic Mayor Hector Lora said police from the cities of Clifton and Patterson, as well as Passaic County sheriff deputies, escorted Berdnik’s body from the restaurant to the coroner’s office.

“I worked with him in different roles and [had] always seen him willing to serve,” Lora said in a phone interview on Tuesday night. “He fought very hard for the role every single time, so I know that it meant a great deal to him.”

Speaking over the phone from the scene of the incident, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said Berdnik was acting normally when he last saw him Monday during a swearing in of new police officers.

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“We exchanged pleasantries. I always affectionately referred to him as America’s sheriff,” he said. “He was an exemplary law enforcement leader. We were partners during the pandemic. And just recently we had issues of flooding in Paterson and he offered assistance any way he could as far as potential rescue operations.”

Paterson is Passaic County’s largest city and county seat.

Berdnik has served as sheriff since 2011. He announced last week his department would be laying off more than two dozen correction officers, according to reports. And days earlier, a Passaic County correctional officer and two sergeants were arrested for allegedly violating a pretrial detainee’s civil rights, according to federal prosecutors.

“I know that this is a man who genuinely cared about serving the county in his role as sheriff,” Lora said. “He’s a professional and he’s had a handgun for 30 years. I know he knows how to use one, but I don’t know what occurred there.”

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