Passaic Man Admits Shooting, Wounding Undercover Cop in Garfield Robbery

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a man pleaded guilty today to a charge of attempted murder for shooting and wounding an undercover police officer during an armed robbery attempt outside a Marshall’s store in Garfield in 2014.

Rafael Vasquez, 27, of Passaic, pleaded guilty today to a first-degree charge of attempted murder before Superior Court Judge James J. Guida in Bergen County. He also pleaded guilty to a second-degree charge of possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. Under his plea agreement, the state will recommend that Vasquez be sentenced to 15 years in state prison on the attempted murder charge, including nearly 13 years of parole ineligibility under the No Early Release Act. The state will recommend that he be sentenced to a concurrent sentence of 10 years in state prison with five years of parole ineligibility on the gun charge. In pleading guilty, Vasquez admitted that he shot the undercover officer on April 22, 2014. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Susan J. Steele on April 20.

Two other defendants were indicted with Vasquez in April 2015. Melvin Guzman, 21, of Garfield, and Patrick Morel, 23, of Clifton, each pleaded guilty on Dec. 21, 2015 to a charge of first-degree attempted robbery before Judge Steele.

The state will recommend that each man be sentenced to eight years in years in state prison, including nearly seven years without possibility of parole.

The attempted robbery and shooting occurred during a buy-bust operation conducted by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Task Force.

An undercover officer working for the task force arranged to buy marijuana from Guzman on April 22, 2014 outside a Marshall’s store in Garfield. The defendants had made plans to rob the undercover officer, bringing a handgun and a bag of oregano, instead of marijuana. Guzman and Vasquez were inside in a car driven by Morel when the officer arrived about 1:30 p.m.

Guzman got out of Morel’s car and got into the passenger seat of the undercover officer’s car. Shortly afterward, however, Vasquez exited the back seat of Morel’s vehicle, approached the driver’s side of the undercover officer’s car and brandished a .380-caliber handgun, ordering the officer to give him all of his money. The undercover officer and Vasquez got into a struggle as members of the task force converged on the scene, identifying themselves as police officers. During the struggle, Vasquez shot the undercover officer in the hip and ankle. Vasquez then pointed his gun at the approaching officers while attempting to flee. Two task force officers fired their guns, wounding Vasquez in the left shoulder, ear, and hip. Vasquez and Guzman were arrested at the scene. Morel fled in his vehicle and was later apprehended on the Garden State Parkway without incident.

Under an Attorney General directive, the Shooting Response Team is dispatched to the scene to investigate when state troopers, county investigators, or county task force officers are involved in a shooting.