Neighbors 'Shocked' By Couple's Six-Hour Standoff With SWAT Team
Police, who used force and tear gas to remove couple from their home after an alleged domestic dispute, say the couple will likely be charged Thursday morning; neighbors say couple 'was always very nice'
NORTHERN NJ -- Neighbors who live near the Mahwah couple taken into custody after a six-hour police standoff Wednesday afternoon say they were “shocked” to learn of the incident.
“He’s always been an average guy,” next-door neighbor Kris Kowalski, 19, said of Joseph LaRocco, 47, who, along with his wife Rosa, 45, was forcibly removed from his Ramapo Brae Lane home Wednesday afternoon. Police broke down the LaRocca’s front door and shot tear gas into the home after nearly six hours of unsuccessful negotiations to get the married couple to leave their condo unit, Mahwah Police Chief James Batelli said after the incident Wednesday.
The couple was transported to Bergen Regional Medical Center for psychiatric evaluation after barricading themselves in their home, and spouting “irrational conspiracy theories” to cops during the standoff, Batelli said.
“It is so weird to see this happen,” Linda VanDyke, Kowalski’s mom who also lives next door to the LaRocco’s and their three children, said. “I talk to Joe a lot because he’s always out on the back porch. He’s always friendly, never raises his voice.”
VanDyke said LaRocco had been working, “as a temp,” for a corporation in Mahwah for the past two years. He got laid off about two weeks ago, she said. “As far as I know, that was the only negative thing in his life, and he seemed to be OK with it. He said he’d go back to the temp agency and get something else.”
Another neighbor, Larry Escobar, 21, who lives diagonally across the street from the couple said he didn’t know them too well, “but they always seemed nice. Their kids are outside a lot, never gave anybody problems.” Escobar said he was “shocked something like this happened.”
According to Batelli, the couple has had “no significant past interaction” with the Mahwah Police.
Kowalski said he returned home at about 11:20 a.m. Wednesday morning and was not allowed to enter his condo unit, which is right next to the one the LaRocco’s own. “The police said I couldn’t go in because we were in the line of fire, so I went around [to the other side of the complex] and waited. I didn’t get back in the house until almost 5 o’clock,” he said.
Escobar said he was asked to remain in his home until the area was cleared, after 4 p.m.
Joseph and Rosa LaRocco were taken into custody shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday, after a six-hour standoff with Mahwah and county police, Batelli said. Police were originally called to the home off Stag Hill Road to respond to a domestic dispute, he said.
“A third-party family member called the police to report an argument between the [husband and wife],” Batelli said. “We believe there was a knife involved, but we are not sure at this point which one of them had it.”
When police arrived to the home, Batelli said the couple became “combative,” and barricaded themselves inside.
According to Batelli, six hours of attempted negotiations from Bergen County SWAT Team and hostage negotiators, family members and the LaRocco’s priest were unsuccessful. “We became increasingly concerned” about the welfare of the couple, “and the surrounding community,” during the standoff. Other residents directly surrounding the LaRocco’s unit were evacuated, and those nearby were asked to remain inside their homes, he said.
During the standoff, Batelli said the couple was shouting obscenities at police, “making obscene gestures through the windows,” and “spouting irrational conspiracy theories” about 9/11, the Nazis and Waco, Texas.
“After a certain period of time, we realized they were not going to come out.” Batelli said the county SWAT Team broke down the door, shot tear gas into the home, and went in to forcibly remove the couple from the home. Their three kids were not home at the time, police said.
Neighbors and police say they are unsure what may have prompted the apparent domestic dispute between the couple, or why they barricaded themselves in their home when police arrived on scene.
Batelli said no one was injured during the standoff. After being exposed to tear gas, the couple was medically cleared at the scene by a physician and refused further medical attention, he said.
After the couple was removed from the home, the Mahwah Fire Department “vented out the property,” Mahwah Lt. Stuart Blank said Wednesday night. “The property has been secured.”
Batelli said the husband and wife needed to be “cleared on the medical and psychiatric sides before the law enforcement side can take over.” The two were charged with resisting arrest and related charges Thursday, Batelli said.
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