Paterson, NJ police chief fired for crime surge — accuses mayor of retaliation
PATERSON — Police Chief Ibrahim Baycora is out of a job and says in a lawsuit that Mayor Andre Sayegh created a hostile workplace intended to force the chief to resign and set him up to fail.
The Paterson mayor announced Baycora's termination on Tuesday, adding the chief had been expecting it for months. He called the police chief "disengaged" and "deplorable."
Baycora was appointed as Sayegh's hand-picked choice for police chief in February 2020. Their relationship soured as the pandemic began and a violent crime surge plagued cities throughout the nation.
In Paterson, there have been 75 homicides under Baycora's watch, according to Sayegh. The mayor said Tuesday there has been no plan to address the situation.
But in a lawsuit filed on Friday, Baycora said that the crime surge was not the real reason for his termination. The lawsuit claims the chief had been retaliated against for trying to hold officers accountable, including an ally of the mayor.
Retaliation for accountability
According to Baycora's lawsuit, the police chief found that numerous officers were recording hours that they had not worked to receive unearned pay. Others were "double dipping" by saying they had worked two jobs at once. Baycora went to Internal Affairs about the matter and disclosed his findings to his supervisors within the City.
The lawsuit states that among the officers falsely recording hours was Detective Adam Cruz, the head of the local Police Benevolent Association.
Cruz, who lost to Sayegh in the 2018 mayoral race, quickly became friends with the mayor, according to the complaint. It states that Sayegh was courting the PBA for its endorsement.
Soon after Baycora accused Cruz of "wage theft," the police chief's PBA membership was revoked, the complaint states. Cruz did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.
Paterson's violent crime surge
On Tuesday, Sayegh said that the police chief's lack of action or plan was responsible for the continued high rate of homicides in the city. The Paterson Times reported that there were a record 27 murders in 2020, then another record 28 killings in 2021.
According to Baycora's lawsuit, the Sayegh began regularly "badmouthing" the chief to his subordinates. But in public, the mayor was pointing to bail reform laws as a driving force behind the surge.
During his State of the City address in March, Sayegh deflected responsibility for the surge away from local officials.
"For the past two years, like many cities across the country, Paterson has struggled with gun violence," Sayegh said. He went on to say that there was a need to "mend" bail reform laws that allow offenders arrested on firearms charges to be released.
The lawsuit also states a lack of manpower in the Paterson Police Department contributed to the rise in homicides. Sayegh made similar points during his State of the City address as well.
"In 2011, 125 police officers were laid off," Sayegh said in March. "We're still reeling but we're going to recover."
Police shortage in Paterson
According to the lawsuit, Baycora asked for 30 officers for a Special Operations Group to patrol the Fourth Ward following two homicides in February. Instead, the mayor's office approved 15 cops for the detail and set up the plan to fail.
Fifth Ward Councilman Luis Valez at Tuesday's press conference called the accusation a "weak excuse." And the mayor waved away the idea that Baycora had not been given what he requested.
“He has never, in a cabinet meeting or in a public setting, ever asked for officers," Sayegh said. "He failed to give us a plan."
However, the mayor then acknowledged there has been an issue retaining cops within the department. He said around 400 spots are filled. The goal set out in his State of the City address was to reach 439 officers, which would be the highest number in a decade, Sayegh said.
Who is Paterson police chief now?
Deputy Chief Englebert Ribeiro will take over as acting chief, Sayegh said. Ribeiro was appointed to the deputy position in August 2021 and makes a salary of $186,744, according to pension records.
At the time, NorthJersey.com reported that there was widespread speculation that Baycora would resign. In his lawsuit, Baycora accused Sayegh of grooming Ribeiro to take over as chief. It adds that the police chief was never consulted about the promotion or notified that the position would be filled.
Pay and benefits for Paterson police chief
The mayor on Tuesday painted Baycora as an official only interested in a "payday."
“As my administration grapples with the challenges of public safety every day, we have a chief who is more concerned about what he gets than what he gives," Sayegh said. "That ends today.”
But in his lawsuit, Baycora states that his contract had him making less than his predecessor and even deputy fire chiefs. The mayor offered a pay bump in January but it still fell short of the prior chief and current Fire Chief Brian McDermott.
State pension records show his salary was $219,000 as of June, while McDermott's was $263,556.
“Paterson is a poor city that can’t afford a money grab," Sayegh said Tuesday. "This is pure greed. We don’t reward poor performance in Paterson.”