Three families of Somerset County crime victims have vowed they will fight efforts by the county Prosecutor's Office to seek accreditation from the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police.
Anita Kavanaugh said she wanted to know who killed her husband in March, when he was run over while waiting for a ride. Kerry Gordon said she wanted a restraining order enforced after her husband put a gun to her head in 2010. Mark Sheridan said he expected a thorough investigation after his parents, Cooper University Health System CEO John P. Sheridan Jr. and his wife, Joyce, were found dead, both repeatedly stabbed, in 2014.
Kavanaugh, Gordon, and Sheridan said the investigations by the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office were inadequate. Not only did authorities dismiss their concerns, but authorities in that office - including Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano - became hostile toward them as they insisted investigators do their jobs, Kavanaugh, Gordon, and Sheridan said. All three said they were pursuing separate legal actions as a result of negligence by the Prosecutor's Office.
Amid the controversy involving the three cases, Soriano has announced he is seeking accreditation for his office from the police chiefs' organization, which validates the professionalism of the office. An assessment team is scheduled to be in Somerset County next week studying staffing, procedures, and paperwork.
According to the association's website, seven of the state's 21 counties hold accreditation, including Gloucester, Atlantic, Cumberland, Salem, and Ocean Counties in South Jersey. Accreditation is voluntary and valid for three years.
Soriano and his spokesman, Jack Bennett, declined requests for comment.
"The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office has always been committed to improving its delivery of law enforcement service," Soriano said in a news release announcing that his office was seeking the accreditation. "Through our voluntary effort of attaining accreditation, we demonstrate our express desire to achieve professional excellence."
Officials from the police chiefs' group said they wanted to hear from the public. Kavanaugh, Gordon, and Sheridan said they would oppose the county office's efforts.
"I really don't think they know how to solve a crime," said Kavanaugh, 66, of Somerville. She said her husband, George, a firefighter of 50 years and a former chief, was killed in a hit-and-run accident March 6. He was waiting for a ride after attending the wake for a retired firefighter when he was struck.
"There's a big cover-up here, but I don't know who they are protecting," Kavanaugh said. The driver may have been a member of a local fire department or someone affiliated with the department, according to information put out by law enforcement authorities, Kavanaugh said.
"I would give them leads of what people were telling me," Kavanaugh said of her efforts to work with the Prosecutor's Office. "They would just say, 'Oh, no, they're cleared.' . . . They told me I watch too much TV."
Soriano, Kavanaugh said, has not closed the case but does not appear to be actively looking for a suspect. "I told him, you may have this on hold, but if it takes me to my dying breath, I'll find out who did this. I owe that to George."
In a July story on NJ.com, Soriano said of the case: "Through our investigation thus far, we have developed a strong belief that there is an individual or individuals who can identify the vehicle that struck George Kavanaugh. The Kavanaugh family is indeed entitled to the decency of forthrightness."
Gordon, 50, of Watchung, said she initially expressed concern to police about the guns her estranged husband, Robert Risse, owned. In 2010, he put a gun to her head in front of the couple's then-8-year-old daughter, who also attempted to protect her mother during the attack, Gordon said.
She said she got her finger between the trigger and guard, and eventually wrestled the gun from her husband, who was suffering from terminal lung cancer. Gordon said she obtained a restraining order, and Risse was charged with attempted murder. He was released from jail and violated the protective order several times, she said. The Prosecutor's Office refused to revoke bail, Gordon said.
She said she called Soriano.
"Prosecutor Soriano started screaming at me, 'Who do you . . . think you are to tell me what you think I should be doing?' " she recalled Thursday.
"The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office was my last line of defense and they failed me," Gordon said. Weeks before her husband was to go to trial on the attempted murder charge, he died, she said.
Soriano, whose five-year term as prosecutor expired in October, though he continues to serve, came under criticism by the Sheridan family after a six-month investigation when Soriano concluded that John Sheridan, 72, repeatedly stabbed his wife, 69, stabbed himself five times, and set fire to the couple's home in Montgomery Township on Sept. 28, 2014.
John Sheridan, a Republican insider who served as Gov. Thomas H. Kean's transportation secretary and who was on the transition teams for Gov. Christie Whitman and Gov. Christie, was soon to retire from Cooper. His wife was a retired history teacher.
Mark Sheridan, along with his brothers Matt, Tim, and Dan, has accused investigators of ignoring evidence indicative of a double murder.
The family hired nationally known forensic pathologist Michael Baden to do an independent autopsy. Baden told the family that the two knives found in the bedroom could not have caused John Sheridan's wounds. A knife that he believes could have caused the wounds has never been found.
Mark Sheridan said Thursday in an interview that he would contact state authorities who assess the agency for accreditation. "To the extent that accreditation hinges on their ability to perform a complete and thorough investigation, I see no basis for them to receive accreditation," he said.
Written comments from the public about the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office can be sent to the state's program manager, Harry J. Delgado, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission, 751 Route 73 N., Suite 12, Marlton, N.J. 08053.