In a tragic turn of events, Richard Berdnik, the longstanding Passaic County Sheriff, ended his own life in a restroom at the Toros Turkish restaurant in Clifton on Tuesday afternoon. The incident unfolded around 3:30 p.m. when a gunshot was heard by patrons, leaving the community and law enforcement in shock.
Berdnik was a Democrat who had dedicated over three decades to law enforcement, beginning as a Clifton police officer before transitioning to the role of sheriff in 2011. His service included commanding the juvenile division and SWAT team before he successfully ran for the elected office.
The 64-year-old, a married father of four and grandfather, was not only deeply rooted in law enforcement but also a proud graduate of Clifton High School, as indicated in his biography on the sheriff's department's website. Former Clifton Mayor James Anzaldi expressed his grief, describing Berdnik as "the salt of the earth" and expressing sympathy for the sheriff's family.
State Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin characterized Berdnik's death as an "unfathomable loss for New Jersey." This tragic incident compounds existing challenges within the sheriff's department, including plans to lay off 29 officers due to the impending closure of the county jail, as reported by The Record.
Recent arrests of two sheriff's sergeants and a correctional officer, charged with violating a prisoner's civil rights during a 2021 assault and cover-up, further add to the department's woes. The alleged assault occurred following an incident where the inmate splashed a mixture containing urine on an officer.
Huseyin Bayram, the owner of Toros, received a key to the city of Paterson earlier that day for the restaurant's charitable efforts during the pandemic, giving away 10,000 meals to those in need and medical staff across its three locations in Clifton, Paterson, and Montclair.
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, reflecting on Berdnik's sudden demise, referred to him as "America's Sheriff" and praised their collaborative efforts in Passaic County. Sayegh revealed that he had interacted with Berdnik just the day before, describing their exchange as routine and expressing shock over the sheriff's apparent normalcy.
As the community grapples with this tragic loss, the circumstances surrounding Berdnik's death highlight ongoing challenges within the sheriff's department. The incident also serves as a poignant reminder of the broader mental health issues that individuals in law enforcement may face.
For those in crisis or struggling with suicidal thoughts, immediate assistance is available through the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 988 or by visiting SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.