Clifton NJ January 24, 2024
Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik, a longtime law enforcement officer with deep ties to North Jersey, fatally shot himself Tuesday afternoon at a well-known Turkish restaurant in Clifton, multiple sources said.
Berdnik went into the bathroom at Toros on Hazel Street, and soon after, people in the restaurant heard a gunshot, the sources said.
The incident happened just after 3:30 p.m. By 3:38 p.m., a call went out over the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office radio system for all units to respond to Toros.
More than a dozen police vehicles were within a block, including the Paterson police, the Sheriff’s Office, Clifton fire and Clifton police, all with their lights flashing. Nearby streets were blocked off. Two helicopters hovered above the scene, flanking the restaurant.
Authorities at the scene would not comment and referred all questions to the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office. The owner of Toros would not speak to reporters.
Former Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark said he was stunned by Berdnik’s death. “Rich always had a laid-back demeanor, truly cared about law enforcement, but was kind and caring at the same time,” Kazmark said. “He was so even-tempered. I think that makes this even harder to understand.
“We never truly know how people feel inside, what is going on that could tragically impact them. It puts everything in perspective and shows we need to be kind and care about one another even more,” Kazmark added. “We lost a great sheriff and a really good man.”
Berdnik, a retired Clifton police officer, had been the county sheriff since 2011 and won reelection in November 2022 for a fifth three-year term. He was in his mid-60s.
Clifton Councilman Bill Gibson, a retired Clifton police officer, said he was Berdnik’s partner for years. When told of his death, Gibson said, “What? Nooo. He was my partner. We were brothers, for crying out loud. … I got to go.”
Former Clifton Mayor James Anzaldi said he was uncommonly fond of Berdnik even though he is a Republican and Berdnik was elected five times as a Democrat.
“I can’t imagine,” Anzaldi said. “Richie was the salt of the earth, my kind of person. My heart breaks for his family.”
The Passaic County Board of County Commissioners canceled a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday night after the news of Berdnik’s death.
The owner of Toros, Huseyin Bayram, was given a key to the city of Paterson earlier Tuesday by Mayor Andre Sayegh for his humanitarian efforts during the pandemic. Toros has three locations, in Clifton, Paterson and Montclair.
“I affectionately refer to Richard Berdnik as America’s sheriff, because ever since he became our leader here in Passaic County, we had such an outstanding working relationship,” Sayegh said. “He was always offering assistance, and especially recently, with the flooding, he was offering to have rescue vehicles readily available for us. I last saw him yesterday. We swore in eight new police officers … He seemed normal; we exchanged pleasantries.”
At some point before his death, Berdnik posed for a photo with one of the owners of the restaurant, who had been presented the ceremonial key by Sayegh. Berdnik was not in uniform. He was wearing dark slacks, a gray pullover and a green checked dress shirt.
Berdnik’s death came after his department went through a difficult week.
Federal authorities on Jan. 17 arrested two sergeants and a sheriff’s officer on charges involving an alleged beating of a pretrial detainee at the Passaic County Jail in January 2021. Berdnik last Thursday issued a memo saying he would be laying off 29 sheriff’s officers as a result of the shutdown of that same jail.
“I am well aware that there is much confusion and stress during this very difficult time in our agency,” Berdnik’s memo read. “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 was a graduate of Clifton High School, the New Jersey State Police Academy, the FBI National Academy and the FBI National Executive Institute. Berdnik’s wife, Monica Berdnik, is a pediatric nurse at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson, and they have four adult children, according to Berdnik’s bio on the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office website. Berdnik was a parishioner and eucharistic minister at Clifton’s St. Andrew’s Church and a fourth-degree member of the Knights of Columbus.
On Tuesday evening, access to the street where Berdnik lived was restricted by police.
Berdnik’s son Kevin was initially hired in 2017 by Clifton police but left to join the Rockaway Police Department in 2022.