Lawsuit alleges New Jersey county was aware of allegations of sexual abuse by former sheriff and failed to act
Warning: Some content in this story may be disturbing to some viewers.
Edward Bullock, the former sheriff of New Jersey's Warren County, admitted to sexually abusing boys at the county’s now-closed youth shelter. Four of his alleged victims are suing the county, alleging it failed to protect them. And legal documents obtained by Team 12 show that county officials were warned about Bullock’s behavior. They also shed light on the county’s legal defense, which a leading child abuse advocate calls “reprehensible.”
“Warren County doesn't want to admit the truth,” says one plaintiff, who Team 12 agreed to identify only by his initials, W.M. “Warren County wants to keep the darkest chapter in its history buried, and hope it never sees the light.”
In January 1988, W.M. was 11 years old. He says Bullock picked him up at the Hackettstown Police Station after his mother had left him unattended. It wasn’t the first time Bullock had picked him up.
“A few minutes later, Sheriff Bullock walks in, and I was instantly scared,” W.M. recalls, “because the last interaction I had with this man, I was being molested.”
He says Bullock was supposed to drive him to the youth shelter but took a detour onto a dirt road, and what happened next haunts him to this day.
“The sheriff raped me. It hurt. I was in pain and I was crying, and I was screaming and telling him to stop, and he just kept telling me that it was all right,” W.M. says.
“It's not just sexual assault,” he adds. “It's the murder of a person's soul. There's no getting over that.”
Nine years before W.M.’s alleged assault, Jack Jeffress was a 15-year-old runaway. He says Bullock picked him up in downtown Easton, Pennsylvania, drove him to New Jersey, and gave him pizza and beer.
“I just started feeling dizzy. I assumed that I was drugged,” Jeffress recalls.
Jeffress says he passed out. When he awoke, he says Bullock was on top of him. “The physical pain is something I’ll never forget,” he says. “It was just terrible.”
In 1992, Bullock pleaded guilty to official misconduct and confessed to sexual acts with eight young boys. He wasn’t tried for rape until 2015. The case ended in a mistrial. Bullock died a few months later. Jeffress, W.M. and two others are now suing Warren County, saying county officials failed to protect them.
“There are some county employees who reported this,” says Jeff Russo, attorney for three plaintiffs, including W.M. “The problem is it fell on deaf ears.”
Team 12 obtained documents that showed Warren County was warned about Bullock’s behavior. In one deposition, a former sheriff’s officer said Bullock “showed an interest in young boys...usually blond hair, blue-eyed.”
In another, a former shelter supervisor said, “There were comments on a daily basis…it was just understood…throughout the whole courthouse that Sheriff Bullock was interested in boys."
Several people reported their concerns to supervisors, including the shelter director’s secretary, who said, “I ran it past him a couple of times. He would just say, ‘Well, you know, some things are better not known.’”
One officer said, “It was almost like a running joke. People would see Bullock walking down the hall with a boy and snicker and laugh about it.”
“The whole system failed,” says Dr. Michael Abrams, a psychologist familiar with the case. “That added to the damage, because everywhere the victims turned, they ran into collaborators of the victimizer.”
The estate of Edward Bullock, originally named in the lawsuit, is not offering a defense. It officially signed an “admission of liability.” The estate’s attorney did not return messages.
But in a written statement, Warren County says, “Each and every one of these allegations is categorically and unequivocally false… The county and this Board of County Commissioners have been steadfast and unwavering in the commitment to prevent all forms of child and domestic abuse.”
But sealed documents obtained by Team 12 show the county repeatedly argued that because the boys were neglected or had other issues, being raped would not have done them any more damage.
“That line of attack… is absolutely reprehensible,” says Marci Hamilton, CEO of ChildUSA, a think tank to prevent child abuse. “The notion that any child was already so far gone, that we don't need to worry about the rapes by someone in their universe, is both scientifically incorrect, but also just cruel.”
“It’s a disgusting argument,” Russo adds. “And, you know, we'll let a jury decide that.”
Last week, News 12’s Senior Investigative Reporter Walt Kane asked Warren County officials about those tactics at a County Commissioners meeting, held by videoconferencing software.
“This is an active litigation and there should be no comment on this, period,” replied an official off-screen, later identified as Warren County Administrator Alex Lazorisak.
Thirty years after he was raped on a dirt road, W.M. is still seeking justice. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” he says. “The county needs to come clean once and for all.”