Report: Murphy administration failed Katie Brennan ‘every step of the way’

The Select Oversight Committee didn’t mince words. Its report rips Gov. Phil Murphy’s inner circle for failing Katie Brennan after she accused campaign worker turned transition staffer Al Alvarez of sexually assaulting her in April 2017. “Transition leadership should have immediately conducted a thorough and rigorous investigation into the allegation,” the report states, adding, “ … the people entrusted with properly and responsibly handling Ms. Brennan’s complaint failed her at every step of the way.”

“It was a horrendous experience for Katie Brennan. It certainly was not a great experience for Al Alvarez. It was a scar on government, and it was another sad reminder of conditions, behavior and attitudes that need to change,” said committee co-chair Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

The Murphy administration hired Alvarez at $140,000 a year, yet not a single witness admitted it. The report concludes that former chief of staff Pete Cammarano and transition team executive director Jose Lozano hired Alvarez. Two Republican committee members went further saying they suspect possible perjury.

“Listening to testimonies by the governor’s most senior staff, and we are left with inconsistent and deliberately obtrusive statements. We have concerns that some of what we may have heard had been intentionally perjurious so as to subvert the legitimate efforts of the Legislature and this committee,” said committee member Sen. Kristin Corrado.

“If somebody swears falsely under oath there would be legal consequences. But our committee was not a legislative grand jury. We looked at the facts, we found the facts, we issued our report. Whether or not this is a criminal justice matter will be up to a prosecutor’s office or the attorney general and not us,” said Joseph Hayden, the attorney for the Select Oversight Committee.

Alvarez denied the allegations and two county prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges. The report describes a government process rife with legal and judgmental errors, including administration staff failing to advise the governor of Brennan’s case, and twice mishandling its decision asking Alvarez to leave state employment, never properly following through. Alvarez actually received a $30,000 raise, which the report called “embarrassing.” Alvarez finally resigned shortly before Brennan’s story hit the papers. The report did not call for resignations.

“I think that’s up to the governor. He’s the one who is served by these people. He is the one who appoints them,” Weinberg said.

In a statement Katie Brennan, who still works for the state, said, “The findings of this report confirm what I have known all along — that sexual violence survivors in this state still cannot expect to receive justice …” She implored the governor, “ … the individuals in your senior leadership who have been complicit must be held to account.”

A spokesperson for the Governor’s Office said, “Gov. Murphy has long said that we can and must do better to allow survivors of sexual assault to seek justice,” and that he’s already enacted ” … meaningful reforms, putting New Jersey on a path to being a national leader in the fight for survivors of sexual assault.”

Alvarez did not reply to a request for comment. The committee voted to release the report with abstentions from the two Republicans, who released their own, calling the committee’s work “incomplete” and urging it to investigate several other cases of alleged sexual misconduct. The common goal?

“This kind of thing is never repeated. And that when somebody makes an allegation of rape it’s taken seriously and it’s investigated appropriately,” Weinberg said.

The committee will not disband but it’s got no further hearings scheduled. It will now focus on changes to rules and regulations designed to protect employee victims.