This story contains images that depict violence.
Just weeks after the killing of Daunte Wright foregrounded the issue of misconduct among female police officers, a new lawsuit filed in New Jersey federal court alleges a pattern of brutal behavior from a longtime veteran of the Trenton Police Department. Gloria Ramirez, a petite Guatemalan woman in her 40s living in Trenton, says she was a victim of excessive force at the hands of police, specifically a female officer named Tara Dzurkoc with a decade-long history of allegations of excessive force and racist language on the job.
Ramirez’s suit alleges that on January 7, 2020, a group of officers affiliated with the U.S. Marshal’s New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, including Officer Dzurkoc, arrived at her small three-bedroom home to arrest her son on what Ramirez’s lawyer, Tom Mallon, describes as an assault warrant. Ramirez alleges that once officers removed her son from the home, the police began to beat her adult daughter, prompting Ramirez to record them with her phone. According to the lawsuit, the presence of the phone provoked an attack from Dzurkoc and her colleagues, who knocked out Ramirez’s two front teeth and left her with injuries all over her body. (She was briefly able to capture the incident in blurry footage in which a man yells, “Put down the phone!”) The officers arrested Ramirez for aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and obstructing justice. In photographs taken by her immigration attorney after the arrest that were shared with Jezebel, Ramirez’s face is swollen and covered in bruises, her front teeth clearly gone. According to her attorney in the civil case, they will be admitted as evidence in her suit against the police.
In the civil suit filed this week, Mallon notes that Dzurkoc has faced three prior suits for excessive force. (Neither Trenton PD nor Tara Dzurkoc responded to Jezebel’s detailed requests for comment). In fact, Dzurkoc was named as a defendant in at least three additional lawsuits under her maiden name, Tara Stefano, including one case from 2008 in which the plaintiff alleged at one point that Dzurkoc “placed her foot on [my] face and neck.” (Dzurkoc denied the use of force was unreasonable.) In June of 2009, Dzurkoc is alleged to have raided a baby shower in Trenton in search of drugs. According to a suit filed in 2011, the officers didn’t find what they were looking for—but they did assault and mace several of the partygoers, including a number of children. In that suit, Dzurkoc is alleged to have called the women in attendance “spics” and “Puerto Rican bitches.” (The defendants denied those allegations.)
Still, complaints against Officer Dzurkoc never seem to stick. In 2010, for instance, she was suspended without pay after participating in an “assault.” (It’s unclear if this incident was related to any of the civil suits, and the Trenton Police Department hasn’t responded to a request for clarity on Dzurkoc’s disciplinary record.) Six years later, she was given a departmental award, an accolade that came shortly before news of the baby shower incident became public. “She appears to be a frequent flier,” says Mallon, Gloria Ramirez’s lawyer. “And I think Trenton police know about her proclivities and clearly haven’t done anything to stop it.”
Dzurkoc is the wife of the former president of the local police union and a fervent supporter of former president Donald Trump, describing herself on Facebook as a member of the “Trump Train.” On November 5, two days after the presidential election, she copy-and-pasted a chunk of text from another account telling people who voted for Biden to “own it for the next four years .. Don’t complain when you lose your job because 11 million immigrants suddenly become legal,” the post read. “Don’t complain when your otherwise safe communities are overrun by crime and start resembling Chicago.” When a commenter noted that New Jersey is a blue state, she responded, “not my county lmao i we bleed red Hahaa.” In another somewhat questionable post, Dzurkic wrote in a Facebook comment that a 17-year-old girl who went missing in 2015 only to be found with her boyfriend “needs a beating.”
In February, Dzurkoc was reportedly among six police officers who filed a lawsuit against Sheilah Coley, a Black woman named head of the Trenton police department in 2019. In the complaint, according to the Trentonian, Dzurkoc alleges she was removed from the regional fugitive task force—the unit Gloria Ramirez alleges assaulted her—as part of a “hit job” and complained she was “shunned” by colleagues after being investigated by internal affairs. (The suit also mentions, somewhat bizarrely, that Dzurkoc was unable to wear an N-95 mask on the job because her PPE was stuck in a damaged police cruiser. The status of the suit remains unclear.) But as another story in The Trentonian notes, Dzurkoc logged 367 days of sick-time absence between 2012 and 2016.
Allegations about Dzurkoc’s behavior date back to at least 2008, when she and a colleague responded to reports of a man named Timothy Miller brandishing a gun at a local bar. In his lawsuit, filed from jail, Miller claimed that Dzurkoc kicked him in the stomach as other officers beat him: “at one point the bottom of a boot was pressed up against the side of my face and neck,” he wrote. Dzurkoc argued her use of force was reasonable given the circumstances and invoked qualified immunity, the controversial legal defense that shields civil servants from certain types of litigation. The case was dismissed in 2012, a year after a grueling series of allegations against Dzurkoc and her fellow officers made the local news under the headline “N.J. Cops Rain Mace on Baby Shower.” According to the suit filed by several people present that evening, shortly before midnight in the summer of 2009 officers descended on a family celebration, spraying pepper spray on participants and putting some in chokeholds. One woman in attendance said she watched children beaten and pepper-sprayed by the police, including Dzurkoc. The department denied the allegations; that case was stayed and then terminated in 2012 under circumstances that remain unclear.
In 2010, a 59-year-old man named Charles Hendrix Sr. described Dzurkoc and another officer visiting his home and slamming him against the side of his house, breaking a window and injuring him in an action he interpreted as retribution for an earlier settlement he’d received over a separate incident of excessive use of force. According to his complaint, filed in New Jersey federal court, officers rifled through his wallet; “Now that Obama is in office, you people should be okay,” one allegedly said. An attorney for the department denied the bulk of the allegations, noting that any injuries sustained by Hendrix were “due to his own involuntary actions.” The case was eventually closed when the department produced a release associated with Hendrix’s earlier settlement absolving the department of any liability or responsibility.
In 2018, a woman named Theresa Discher was awarded $55,000 in damages in a settlement with the city after she alleged officers including Dzurkoc dislocated her arm during a kidnapping investigation. But just two years later, a man named Jamal Barlow accused Dzurkoc and another officer of throwing him to the ground during an arrest and allowing him to be “viciously attacked, bitten, and savaged by a dog” owned by the officers. That case was dismissed for procedural reasons.
Neither the Trenton Police Department nor Dzurkoc responded to detailed requests for comment on Dzurkoc’s history of alleged excessive force or her disciplinary record. But according to Dzurkoc’s reported lawsuit against her superiors, she has been reassigned to patrol duty from the regional fugitive task force and was the subject of an internal affairs investigation sometime after 2019.
Meanwhile, the charges brought against Gloria Ramirez have had wide-ranging consequences for the mother of four: As a result of her arrest she was shuttled through immigration court and spent the better part of a year in jail, unable to secure a release because of the violent nature of her alleged crimes against the officers. According to the civil complaint she filed this week, those charges were all eventually dismissed. But “she suffered a lot in jail,” says John Leschak, her immigration attorney. “I would hope the federal government would terminate her deportation proceedings, considering everything that happened to her.” Her most recent asylum application has been denied, he says, and remains on appeal.