Passaic Sheriff Berdnik's Death By Suicide 'Unfathomable Loss' For NJ, Attorney General Says

Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik died by his own hand on Tuesday in his hometown Clifton, in what the Garden State's attorney general called "an unfathomable loss for New Jersey."

Requiescat in pace, Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik, at 64.

Requiescat in pace, Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik, at 64.

Photo Credit: FACEBOOK / PCSO

Emergency responders rushed to Toro's Turkish Restaurant on Hazel Street a few minutes after 3:30 p.m. Jan. 23.

Berdnik had just taken his life in the men's room, the sudden gunshot through the heart startling staff and patrons alike, sources told Daily Voice.

Not even 15 minutes earlier, the popular sheriff had posed for cellphone photos. Then he got a phone call with some very unsettling news, reliable sources said.

The area was locked down as city police and their colleagues from the sheriff's office and neighboring Paterson converged on the neighborhood. 

Many of them formed a thick blue line outside the restaurant, from one side of the street to the other, displaying the respect that Berdnik earned while also protecting the incident scene from contamination and forming a human buffer against vulturous members of the news media.

As word spread, law enforcement officers of all stripes from both Passaic and Bergen counties said they couldn't imagine why Berdnik, only 64 years old -- and with new grandchildren -- would choose such a desperate end.

Each of dozens of people who immediately reached out to Daily Voice upon hearing the tragic news talked of how dedicated Berdnik was to the community at large. They specifically mentioned his kindness, especially to those in need.

One veteran newsman, in particular, always got an immediate response from the sheriff no matter the time of day or what Berdnik was involved in at that moment. Without fail, he was in equal measure patient, solicitous and helpful.

Throughout the day, various law enforcement officers at local and county agencies said they were awaiting an official statement from Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes. Tuesday passed without one, however.

The prosecutor's office issued a statement from Valdes at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday that read:

"It is with a heavy heart that the Passaic County law enforcement community mourns the loss of Sheriff Richard Berdnik, a true law enforcement professional, partner, and colleague. We extend our deepest condolences to the Berdnik family, the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office and all members of law enforcement touched by this tragedy. We thank you for your prayers and support as we work through the gravity of this loss.

"The investigation is active and ongoing," the prosecutor added..  

Among the first to speak publicly on Tuesday was New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin, who offered his "sincerest condolences to [Berdnik's] wife, their children, grandchildren, family members, and law enforcement colleagues.

"Richard Berdnik dedicated his life to serving the residents of Passaic County and its municipalities," Platkin said. "This is an unfathomable loss for New Jersey."

Berdnik "always had a laid-back demeanor -- he was so even-tempered," former Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark said. "I think that makes this even harder to understand.

"We never truly know how people feel inside, what is going on that could tragically impact them," Kazmarkadded. "We lost a great sheriff and a really good man."

A Clifton native, Bernick became Passaic County's 49th sheriff in 2011 after retiring from the Clifton Police Department. 

The Democratic lawman won his fourth straight re-election in November 2022 and was showing no signs of losing his immense popularity, even though things professionally had gotten a bit rocky.

Last week federal authorities charged two sergeants and an officer in Berdnik's department in connection with the alleged beating of a defendant awaiting trial in 2021.

The sheriff last week also announced that he had to pink-slip more than two dozen correctional officers amid the ongoing shuttering of the Passaic County Jail. The Bergen County Jail has been absorbing its detainees (SEE: Bail Reform Fuels Deal For Bergen County Jail To House Passaic County Inmates).

"I am well aware that there is much confusion and stress during this very difficult time in our agency," Berdnik wrote to his staff last week. "I have done everything in my power to find employment for all affected employees but unfortunately, we must move forward to lay off 29 correctional police officers at this time."

Moments before entering the bathroom on Tuesday, Berdnik posed for a photo with Toro owners Huseyin Bayram and Cuneyt Gurkan for Turk of America, an English-language magazine that reports on Turkish businesses and other news affecting the Turkish community in the U.S.

Bayram had been given the key to the city of Paterson earlier in the day for donating 10,000 meals to those in need, as well as doctors and nurses, during the pandemic.

Turk of America co-founder Cemil Ozyurt said Berdnik asked him during the photo shoot whether his magazine was distributed in Passaic County.

"I've never been this close to death," Ozyurt said.

It was around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when a Clifton Fire Department EMS ambulance, escorted by a police motorcade, solemnly transported the late sheriff's body from the restaurant not far from his childhood home.

Berdnik grew up in the hardscrabble city where several scenes from "The Sopranos" were filmed, where New York Yankee Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto once owned a bowling alley and where FDNY Chaplain Fr. Mychal F. Judge -- whose death is listed as the first official casualty of the 9/11 terror attacks -- was born.

It's also where his late father, Polish immigrant Basil Berdnik, worked for pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann-La Roche for 33 years.

Richard H. Berdnik was graduated from Clifton High School in 1978 and had already known from a very young age that he'd someday be a crime fighter.

He worked in just about every capacity during his 28 years with the city police department and was known as a straight-laced lawman, one who was trusted heading the department's Internal Affairs Division. He also taught at the Passaic County Police Academy.

Berdnik was particularly proud, however, of having graduated from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, VA, in 1998 -- a rare feat for law enforcers today but even more so over a quarter-century ago.

Berdnik leaves his wife, Monica Berdnik, who's a pediatric nurse at St. Joseph's University Medical Center in Paterson, as well as four adult children and several grandchildren.

"As we mourn, we encourage everyone – especially members of law enforcement – to remember that if you are overwhelmed, having thoughts about self-harm, or need to talk, call or text 988," said Platkin, the New Jersey attorney general. "Law enforcement officers and their families can also reach out to Cop2Cop at 1-866-Cop2Cop (1-866-267-2267).

"There is help, and you are not alone.”


The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) offers 24/7 call, text and chat access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing suicidal, substance use, and/or mental health crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat at:


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