Rafael Vasquez, Alleged NJ Cop Shooter, Pleads Not Guilty
HACKENSACK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A man accused of shooting an undercover cop during a drug sting last week in Garfield has pleaded not guilty.
Rafael Vasquez, 25, of Passaic, was pushed into court in a wheelchair wearing a cast on his arm and an orange prison jumpsuit, WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported. He was also struck several times in Tuesday’s shootout at a shopping center parking lot and hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
Vasquez faces charges that include attempted murder, robbery and aggravated assault.
“This is the individual, I would submit, the evidence shows shot the police officer victim,” a prosecutor told the judge.
Vasquez’s lawyer entered the not-guilty plea. The suspect’s bail was continued at $2 million.
Police say it was Vasquez who escalated the undercover buy-and-bust operation by pulling a gun and trying to rob the officer before opening fire. The wounded officer has been released from the hospital, Smith reported.
Two other suspects charged in the shooting — Melvin Guzman, 19, of Garfield, and Patrick Morel, 21, of Clifton — pleaded not guilty Wednesday. They face robbery, aggravated assault and weapons charges, and are being held on $750,000 bail.
The undercover officer from the Paramus Narcotics Unit was shot in the right hip and ankle in the parking lot across from a Marshall’s department store, authorities said.
The officer and his partner were posing as prospective drug buyers when a $400 marijuana deal in the parking lot went wrong, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said.
Paramus Police Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg said these suspects were no ordinary drug dealers.
“This was about a crew of armed robbers,” he told Smith last week. “Whether it was marijuana, heroin or any other objects that were sent there, there was going to be no marijuana delivered to our guys. The sole purpose was, the pretext was that the marijuana would be delivered there for the sole purpose of robbing our undercover agent.”
The cop was in the driver’s seat of a car with a suspected drug dealer in the passenger seat when a second man approached the vehicle and demanded that the officer “give him everything,” Molinelli said.
“Started to actually physical put his hands on the undercover officer to a point where the undercover team moved in, and the minute that happened, that’s when the gunshots started,” Molinelli said.
Vasquez allegedly shot the officer twice during a scuffle, authorities said. Police returned fire as the backup team rushed in to help and fired several times at the suspect.
Vasquez and Guzman were arrested at the scene. Molinelli said police recovered the suspected shooter’s weapon as well as drugs and money.
Morel, who police said had driven the other two to the scene, drove off but was taken into custody at the Essex Toll Plaza on the Garden State Parkway, authorities said.
The injured undercover officer’s name is not being released, but authorities said he is a nine-year veteran of the Paramus Police Department and was on loan to a Bergen County narcotics task force.
He was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center where he underwent surgery for his injuries.
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