N.J. AG’s office declined to investigate Brennan’s rape allegation, ethics officer says

Katie Brennan, (left), the chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, listens to a question as she testifies before the Select Oversight Committee at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Trenton, N.J. Brennan, a top staffer at the state's housing agency came forward as sexual assault victim and has said too little was done about her complaints, which she reported to law enforcement. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

Katie Brennan, (left), the chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, listens to a question as she testifies before the Select Oversight Committee at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Trenton, N.J. Brennan, a top staffer at the state's housing agency came forward as sexual assault victim and has said too little was done about her complaints, which she reported to law enforcement. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

The top ethics officer in New Jersey said the state did not launch an investigation into a sexual assault claim because the attack happened before the victim and the perpetrator were state employees.

Even though Katie Brennan and the man she accused of raping her, Al Alvarez, both worked for the state of New Jersey last year, the state attorney general’s office said her complaint did not fall under the state’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy because the alleged assault happened in early 2017 and not on state property, said Heather Taylor, chief ethics officer to Gov. Phil Murphy.

“The attorney general’s office told me they didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter,” Taylor said. “I was hoping the AG’s office would do an EEO investigation.”

A representative of Attorney General Gurbir Grewal declined to comment.

The news came in the fourth day of hearings into whether Murphy officials — in the campaign, transition, or administration — ran afoul of state policies by their limited action in response to Brennan’s claims and allowing Alvarez to remain on the payroll.

Alvarez has denied Brennan’s accusation that he raped her and was never charged by police.

Pete Cammarano, Murphy’s chief of staff, was grilled by lawmakers Thursday about whether he did anything during the transition period to stop Alvarez from getting a job at the Schools Development Authority.

Cammarano learned of the sexual assault allegation in December 2017 before Murphy was inaugurated, but he did not know that Brennan was the accuser.

“You have an accusation by somebody with credibility,” said Cammarano. “But it’s difficult. Can you hold an accusation against somebody or not in the employment world?”

In March, Taylor said she was informed of Brennan’s allegation by Murphy’s chief counsel Matt Platkin, which she then referred to the attorney general’s office.

Later Taylor said she got a call from the attorney general’s chief of staff, Melissa Liebermann, who said the state could not open an EEO investigation because neither Brennan nor Alvarez were state employees at the time of the alleged attack, which also did not occur on state property.

According to Taylor, Liebermann suggested that Murphy campaign officials could investigate the claim, since the alleged rape occurred while Murphy was running for governor in April 2017.

Taylor said both she and Liebermann regretted that they could not pursue Brennan’s claim as an EEO matter. “All of us felt bad about it,” Taylor said.

Brennan testified before the legislature in December that she told several high-ranking officials in Murphy’s transition and administration about her claims against Alvarez but said she was mostly ignored.

Murphy has said repeatedly that he feels badly about what happened to Brennan but claims his staff followed the proper protocols.

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