Passaic Man Gets 15 Years for Shooting, Wounding Undercover Officer During Attempted Robbery

Acting Attorney Robert Lougy announced that a man was sentenced to state prison today 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, was sentenced to 15 years in state prison, including nearly 13 years of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Susan J. Steele in Bergen County. He pleaded guilty on March 9 to attempted murder and possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. He was sentenced to 15 years, including nearly 13 years of parole ineligibility, on the attempted murder charge, and a concurrent sentence of 10 years, including five years of parole ineligibility, on the gun charge.

In pleading guilty, Vasquez admitted that he shot the undercover officer on April 22, 2014.

Two co-defendants of Vasquez also were sentenced today by Judge Steele. Melvin Guzman, 21, of Garfield, and Patrick Morel, 23, of Clifton, were each sentenced to eight years in state prison, including nearly seven years of parole ineligibility. Each man pleaded guilty on Dec. 21, 2015 to a charge of first-degree attempted robbery.

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.