Katie Brennan chides Murphy administration officials for ignoring rape claim

Katie Brennan, the chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, answers a question as she testifies before the Select Oversight Committee at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Trenton, N.J. Brennan says Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's campaign staff didn't take her sexual assault allegations seriously. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

Katie Brennan, the chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, answers a question as she testifies before the Select Oversight Committee at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Trenton, N.J. Brennan says Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's campaign staff didn't take her sexual assault allegations seriously. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

In dramatic testimony before a rapt audience at the New Jersey state House Tuesday, Katie Brennan detailed her many attempts to get justice after she was sexually assaulted by a colleague last year, attempts she said were thwarted by officials who did not take her allegation seriously enough.

Brennan spoke before a joint committee of the state Legislature, which is investigating why Gov. Phil Murphy’s transition and administration officials did little to nothing about Brennan’s claims and allowed Albert Alvarez to remain employed by the state.

“I should not have to be here today,” she told lawmakers.

Brennan said Alvarez, who was working on the Murphy gubernatorial campaign in 2017, raped her in her apartment after driving her home from an event. Alvarez has denied the claim and was never charged.

Brennan later joined Murphy’s campaign as a volunteer. Now chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, Brennan said Murphy and top advisers did not take her claim seriously until it was aired publicly in a Wall Street Journal article in October.

“Somehow it wasn’t a priority to address my sexual assault and working with my rapist until it impacted them,” Brennan said.

Brennan said she has been “ostracized” by some people in state government since bringing her allegation forward.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, who co-chairs the committee, said it was clear from Brennan’s testimony that official channels meant to protect victims of sexual assault failed.

“I think it points to many questions about systemic breakdowns,” Weinberg said. “Certainly a lot in the way of communication.”

The committee chairs did not say whether they would call Murphy himself or any members of his senior staff to testify when the panel reconvenes Dec. 18.

In a statement, Murphy praised Brennan for coming forward in such a public setting.

“I commend the courage, bravery, and leadership she showed in telling her story,” Murphy said. “She is right: No one should have to go through an ordeal to have their voices heard.”

Murphy also pointed to his administration’s own internal investigations about what happened as well as new rules issued by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on how law enforcement officials should handle cases of sexual assault.

In April 2017, a day after the alleged rape occurred, Brennan told the Jersey City Police Department what had happened, but she said her interactions with police officers were “unpleasant.” Having completed a rape kit at the hospital, she reported the sex assault to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, but the office declined to press charges.

Brennan later told several high-level staffers in Murphy’s administration, including chief counsel Matt Platkin and ethics officer Heather Taylor. She even reached out to Murphy and his wife, Tammy, in an email, hoping to tell them what had happened in a face-to-face meeting. Although Murphy responded, no meeting ever took place.

“I had access to people in the highest positions of power in the state of New Jersey,” Brennan said. “At each turn,  my pleas for help went unanswered.”

In her testimony, Brennan suggested state lawmakers could contribute to the fight against sexual assault by passing laws that make it easier for survivors to come forward and that lift the two-year statute of limitations on sexual assault charges.

“It’s not about one bad actor. This isn’t about once incident. It isn’t about one hiring,” she said. “This is about a pervasive culture of assault and violence.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the time Brennan worked on the Murphy campaign.

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