A suspended Vernon township police officer pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his pursuit of personal relationships with women for his own prurient interests while on duty, even as his role as a law enforcement officer compromised their ability to freely consent.
Emanuel Rivera, 38, of Vernon pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit official misconduct before Judge Michael Gaus in state Superior Court in Sussex County.
He also agreed to forfeit his current public employment and he has been banned from future public employment, as part of the agreement with the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office.
Rivera had been working for the Vernon Township police since July 2013. He was suspended without pay after being indicted by a state grand jury on August 10, 2021.
“The damage done to the trust of these women and the public by this disgraced officer’s actions is an outrage,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “Police officers are expected to be professional and to respect the laws they enforce and the dignity of the people they serve. That was not on display here, and I am hopeful that this defendant’s fate makes it clear that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”
“This conduct was a clear and disturbing abuse of the power and trust that come with the badge,” said Thomas Eicher, executive director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. “I am pleased that an individual who misuses his position and authority in this manner will never again drive the streets in a police vehicle. And I am glad that, through this plea agreement, his victims will not have to endure a trial.”
“This investigation and prosecution came about through strong partnerships among law enforcement agencies and their shared commitment to holding those who abuse their power accountable,” said acting Sussex County Prosecutor Annmarie Taggart. “The teamwork and collaboration of the law enforcement agencies involved in this case have secured justice for the victims and ensured this defendant will never again wear the trusted badge of a police officer.”
Rivera had previously faced charges from the grand jury of official misconduct, a pattern of official misconduct, attempted sexual assault and criminal sexual contact.
Rivera subsequently admitted that while on duty he had approached women he interacted with in his official capacity and had sought personal relationships, in violation of the Vernon Police Department’s rules and regulations.
He also acknowledged that there was an imbalance of power between him and the women he was propositioning, leaving the women unable to consent because of the coercive, intimidating nature of such requests coming from a uniformed police officer.
The investigation began with a referral from the Vernon Township Police Department.
Investigators learned that on May 11, 2019, police officers, including Rivera, responded to a call at a Vernon Township residence, where they met a woman and the woman’s ex-boyfriend.
Before leaving the residence, the woman informed responding officers that she would spend the night at a friend’s house elsewhere in Vernon.
The woman was unable to contact her friend and decided to sleep in her car near her friend’s house.
Shortly after parking her car, the woman was approached by Rivera, who walked up to her driver’s side window while he was still on duty.
Rivera allegedly made inappropriate sexual remarks to the woman and reached down her shirt.
Rivera then directed the victim to follow his patrol vehicle in her car, and he led her to an abandoned church in Vernon, where he parked behind the building.
Rivera approached the victim and directed her to exit her vehicle. He then engaged in sexual contact with the victim, who resisted and stopped the acts.
Rivera subsequently returned to work, and the victim immediately alerted several friends about what had transpired.
After charging Rivera in connection with that incident, the Sussex County Prosecutor investigated additional allegations that two other women had been subjected to advances by Officer Rivera after Rivera obtained their cell phone numbers through his position as a police officer, one in late 2014 and the other in June or July 2015.
Prosecutors are recommending the court impose a sentence of five years in state prison on each count, to run concurrently. Sentencing is scheduled for April 27, 2023.