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Two Take Pleas In Ambush Shooting Of Paramus Officer in Garfield

Melvin Guzman, Patrick Morel
Melvin Guzman, Patrick Morel Photo Credit: FILE PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia

GARFIELD, N.J. -- Two accomplices involved in the April 2014 ambush shooting of an undercover Paramus police officer in Garfield pleaded guilty Monday after cutting deals with prosecutors.

Melvin Guzman, 20, of Garfield, and 23-year-old Patrick Morel of Clifton each faces eight years in prison -- seven of which must be served before parole eligibility -- for their pleas to attempted robbery charges.

The accused gunman, 27-year-old Rafael Vasquez of Passaic, still faces first-degree attempted murder and attempted robbery, as well as conspiracy and weapons charges. He's been offered an 18-year prison sentence if he pleads guilty.

Morel admitted during Monday's plea that he handed the gun to Vasquez.

Guzman said he got out of the car they came to the meeting in and got into the officer's car.

Vasquez then opened the car door and fired at the officer, authorities said.

“We’ll make sure that everyone responsible faces stern punishment for this violent incident in which a police officer was nearly killed,” acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman said Monday afternoon.

The defendants were all names in a state grand jury indictment returned in Treton in April. Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 11.

The officer, who was on loan to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Narcotic Task Force, was shot in the right hip and lower left leg in the Garfield Walmart parking lot. He was released from the hospital a few days later.

Vasquez — also known as “King Lucifer” — was hit in the arm and leg by shots fired by backup officers outside the Marshals store off Passaic Street. He was treated at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson before being jailed on $2 million bail.

Vasquez plea-bargained his way out of a pair of attempted murder charges to lesser counts in Passaic County, Daily Voice has found. As a result, he spent only three months behind bars before being released in November 2013, despite a history of violent crime, records show.

The New York City-born ex-con already had a lengthy record before the more serious charges.

Deputy Attorney General Anthony P. Torntore presented the case to the state grand jury for the DCJ following an investigation by detectives from the NJ State Police Major Crime Unit and the DCJ invesigators assigned to the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team.

Deputy Attorney General Vincent J. Militello also was assigned to the investigation, Hoffman said.

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