Three Indicted in Shooting of Undercover Cop at Garfield Shopping Center

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that three men were indicted today on first-degree charges related to an incident in which an undercover police officer was shot and wounded during an alleged armed robbery attempt outside a Marshall’s store in Garfield exactly one year ago today.

The Division of Criminal Justice obtained a 10-count state grand jury indictment charging the following men with conspiracy (2nd degree), attempted robbery (1stdegree), unlawful possession of a weapon (2nd degree), possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose (2nd degree), possession of a weapon while committing a drug offense (2nd degree), and three counts of aggravated assault (2nd, 3rd and 4th degree):

  1. Rafael Vasquez, 26, of Passaic,
  2. Melvin Guzman, 20, of Garfield, and
  3. Patrick Morel, 22, of Clifton.

Vasquez also is charged in the indictment with first-degree attempted murder, and Morel is charged with third-degree eluding police.  In addition, Vasquez was charged today in a separate state grand jury indictment with possession of a weapon as a convicted felon.

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 allegedly arranged to buy marijuana from Guzman on April 22, 2014 outside a Marshall’s store in Garfield. 

It is alleged that 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 allegedly 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 allegedly shot the undercover officer in the hip and ankle.  Vasquez then allegedly 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.