Tributes have been pouring in for a longtime New Jersey sheriff who fatally shot himself in the restroom of a busy restaurant.
Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik, a well-known community figure who spent nearly three decades in law enforcement, left the town of Clifton, New Jersey, in turmoil after his suicide on Tuesday.
“Rich always had a relaxed demeanor, genuinely cared about law enforcement, but at the same time was kind and caring,” former Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark told NorthJersey.com.
“He was so balanced. I think that makes it even harder to understand.”
The father of four's sudden death comes after a tumultuous week in his department, in which he was forced to fire 29 correctional officers after he was released to the county jail.
Just moments before he shot himself, Berdnik (left) had posed for a smiling photo with one of the Turkish restaurant's owners. The owner had received the key to the city of Paterson, New Jersey, earlier that day for his efforts during the pandemic
Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik shot himself to death in the bathroom of a busy Turkish restaurant on Tuesday
Witnesses said Berdnik slipped into the bathroom around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday before restaurant patrons were startled by a gunshot
Berdnik, who was also a parishioner and Eucharistic minister, is survived by his wife, Monica, and their four adult children
A huge police presence, including two helicopters, was quickly dispatched to Toros Turkish restaurant after the tragic incident occurred just after 3:30 p.m.
Witnesses reportedly said Berdnik went to the bathroom before people in the restaurant were startled by a gunshot.
Shortly before he shot himself, Berdnik had posed for a photo with one of the restaurant owners.
He smiled as he stood next to Huseyin Bayram, who received the key to the city of Paterson, New Jersey, from Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh earlier in the day for his efforts during the pandemic.
The father had worked as a district sheriff since 2011 and most recently won re-election for a fifth three-year term in November 2022.
He joined the Clifton Police Department in 1982 and his career began by investigating a theft at a construction site. One of his last acts was the stabbing of a teenager.
He reportedly rescued three people from a burning building in 1991 and heroically arrested an armed robber in action in 2003.
Images from throughout his career show a smiling Berdnik playing a central role in his community, mingling with residents and giving speeches at parades.
But after his unexpected suicide, the locals were in disbelief.
“We never really know how people are feeling inside and what's going on that could have a tragic impact on them.” “It puts everything into perspective and shows that we need to be even kinder and care for each other even more Kazmark said.
“We lost a great sheriff and a really good man.”
Sheriff Berdnik celebrated his sheriff's election victory in 2010
Berdnik, who was also a parishioner and Eucharistic minister, is survived by his wife, Monica, and their four adult children.
His suicide came at a tumultuous time for his department, where a month before his death, three of his sheriff's officers had been arrested by the FBI after they allegedly beat an inmate at the county jail in January 2021 in revenge for spraying it on another guard Urine.
The Thursday before his death, Berdnik expressed sadness that he had no choice but to fire 29 correctional officers at the same county jail.
The sheriff issued a memo announcing a reduction in county jail capacity, saying, “I recognize that there is a great deal of confusion and stress within our agency during this very difficult time.”
“I have done everything in my power to find employment for all affected employees, but unfortunately at this time we must lay off 29 correctional officers.”
Berdnik was a popular figure in his community and served in law enforcement in multiple departments for nearly three decades
His storied law enforcement career included rescuing three people from a burning building in 1991 and the heroic capture of an armed robber in 2003
Following news of Berdnik's death, tributes poured in.
Berdnik, a Democrat, was remembered as “salt of the earth” by Republican former Clifton Mayor James Anzaldi, who said he found him friendly enough that they could easily put aside their political differences.
“Richie was the salt of the earth, my kind of person,” he said. “I can't imagine… My heart breaks for his family.”
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said he enjoyed working with Berdnik because “since he became our leader here in Passaic County, we have had a great working relationship.”
“He has always offered help and especially recently, when the flood was imminent, he offered to have emergency vehicles ready for us,” Sayegh added.
“I saw him for the last time yesterday, we swore in eight new police officers.”