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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 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, 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 , 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.

Have a question or a news tip? Email the editor Jessica Mazzola at jessica.mazzola@patch.com. Or, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your email inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Kevin May 17, 2012 at 02:16 PM
O my god are you for real. In any other part of town this would happen. The police were there to investigate a possible domestic dispute with a knife. If anyone did what they did the same response would be used. The only winning law suit would be if the police went there and never went in and someone ended up dead. They did there jobs and did it well.
Chris May 17, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Hey "that guy"...learn how to spell.
FULL NAME May 17, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Anyone can call the police and make a false report of domestic violence or any other crime, and the police can then, and usually do, invade the privacy of the reported parties, without a single shred of evidence, based solely on the false report. This needs to change!
Hunnie Gunnie May 17, 2012 at 06:42 PM
The NM PD came for the man below mein our hotel room ... It was every officer I have dated since here... I thought for a second they all came for revenge on me lol
Jaxson Ville' De' Flori May 17, 2012 at 06:48 PM
sounds like a couple were argueing while doing the dishes and someone called in the overreaction department who got extremely upset that the couple then worked in unison to ignore them so they forceably entered the private residence and removed the couple at gun point, costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars in the process. I guess the overreaction department needs to justify the enormous outlay of taxpayers money on specialized equipment in some way
Roger Pachiderm May 17, 2012 at 07:00 PM
There is a lawsuit out there for your English teacher.
Regenbogen May 17, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Another job well done by Mahwah and Bergen County police, swat teams, negotiators, etc. I just hope the children involved in this situation will get the help which they need.
william May 17, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Went for a 3 hour hike at ramapo reservation mawah cop in parking lot entire day harassing park patrons,running plates writing tickets what a waste of time wouldn't survive a day in bronx,
Hank May 17, 2012 at 11:59 PM
William, how do you know this .....you were on a 3 hour hike ......
Ira May 18, 2012 at 02:20 AM
So, when I make a salad and I hold big knife in my hand while arguing with my wife and my neighbor calls police ..... just think about it: tear gas, guns, dogs, SWAT team.
Chris May 18, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Aren't you people reading the article? The cops came because a family member called them,they wouldn't come out of the house for hours even when asked to, and they were saying crazy stuff to the cops. I don't think that is an over exaggeration at all. If the husband wound up stabbing the wife, then everyone would be complaining that the cops didn't do enough or didn't get there quick enough.
Regenbogen May 18, 2012 at 03:04 AM
Chris, well said!!
Kevin May 18, 2012 at 03:20 PM
william, Jaxson Ville' De' Flori, FULL NAME, Ira and that guy are all perfect examples of why we need the police in the first place. Ira I have a feeling you would open the door and speak to the police if that call was made about you. They would investigate it, clear it and the police would be on their way. No stand off. I agree with Chris the police are dam if they do dam if they don't. So always be dammed if you do.
Missy May 20, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Mahwah P.D. is just a big JOKE..... I agree with William they would'nt last a minute in the Bronx. I think I would actually pay to see that lol. They're just a bunch of pretty boys tryin to make a name for themselves, and at this point it's FAR from a good one. Put them in Newburgh for a day they would NEVER last, bunch of pansies.....LOL
Andy Schmidt May 20, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Missy, fortunately (and by intent!), we don't have police officers who apply "Bronx" methods, because they have been trained to deal with OUR type of suburban environment which brings its distinct issues to solve and allows for appropriate methods. Residents are looking for their police to conduct themselves differently than they might need to if this WAS the Bronx. But if you are so eager to observe life in the Bronx - I'm sure their are apartment complexes with vacancies! Adios!
Missy May 21, 2012 at 11:32 AM
Whatever you say Andy, I would'nt call bringing in the brigade just for a little domestic dispute "appropriate" and as far as "OUR" type of community what exactly do you mean by that? And why did the Pretty "Boys" (Mahwah P.D.) have to call in the task force? If "OUR" community is so suburban as you say they should of been able to handle the situation. Shame on them and as far as their training, I would think they were trained to handle any type of situation I did'nt think the academy trained them specifically for one measley town. My bad thanks for educating me on that. And as far as the Bronx and vacancies in apartment complexes, that's a good Idea although I live in a large 5bedroom home. And although Iam NO longer a Mahwah resident as I was for more than 30yrs I think I'd rather stay local and watch the Circus that the Mahwah P.D. puts on daily.... Buenos Noches!!!
Andy Schmidt May 21, 2012 at 12:33 PM
For someone who doesn't live here, you certain are full of anger of our police department? Look, if someone calls the police and says "Hey I'm worried. My relatives are fighting and they have a pulled a knife at each other - and the kids will be coming home from school later" then the police is required (and rightfully so) to check into that situation. So they go there, ask to come in so that they can make sure that everyone is okay, no one is being co-erced to say "Everything is fine" through a closed door with a knife at their throat. Then I expect them to ask each person what took place that caused that relative to make a report. If a weapon was involved and/or someone was hurt then the law REQUIRES them to look at this as domestic violence. If someone tells them instead "No, go away" then they clearly can NOT just walk away from this unknown situation. It seems in the past few month we constantly hear about domestic situations where one family member ends up severely hurting/killing several family members (spouses, children!). It's their JOB to not walk away until they can be assured that THIS is NOT developing right HERE. None of these sleepy communities where these crimes have occurred would have ever imagined it happening "right here" - so just because it's "only Mahwah" you can never rule it out. They acted completely within reason.
Roger Pachiderm May 21, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Andy you can't argue with Missy. She lives in a 5 bedroom home which qualifies her as an expert at proper police tactics and the social demographics of communities. Our township is so much worse off now that she has left us. We are barely holding on today with the loss of such positive energy and humility that she brought to the township. At least she cares enough to keep up with Mahwah news and offer her expertise. I guess her heart is still here.
Missy May 21, 2012 at 02:09 PM
First of all Roger, I was not Implying that a 5bedroom home makes me an expert. And not that I have to explain myself to you, I simply stated that because of the comment that was said to me about there are apartment complexes in the Bronx with Vacancies. In my opinion that sounds like a "Stereotyping" statement. It sounds to me like that just because someone lives in a complex that is not of such "High Quality" as the majority of the Mahwah residents, then they need the TASK FORCE to be called on them? Give me a break. I bet if this would of happened on Airmont Rd or in Fardale the TASK FORCE would never have been thought of. But then again, maybe Iam wrong being that "you're the expert" here on police tactics. As for me bringing such humility to the township, I did'nt have to bring it the wanna be rent a cops did an outstanding job doing that all on their own. Give credit where credit is due, but thanks anyway. No my heart is far from being there, but when it's all over the media what was done then yes I do have a comment, and will continue as long as I feel to do so.It's called "Freedom of Speech"... hmm let me think, where was that written again? I see what you're getting at "demographic of communities" You're clearly making a Negative statement, . Are you saying that because of where the incident took place? Some things just never change.Have a good day& enjoy yourself living the rest of your life at the Circus... :)
Roger Pachiderm May 21, 2012 at 02:52 PM
My apologies Missy for mistaking you for an expert. And I agree you really do not need to explain yourself but thank you for the several hundred words explaining yourself after acknowledging that you do not need to. You most assuredly have every right to exercise your freedom of speech, especially on topics that you are passionate about. Obviously Mahwah and the new reported on The Patch are very important to you. You have dedicated over a thousand words just on this story. Keep up the good work. Also as a native of The Bronx I really do wish everyone will take a step back and look at how awesome The Bronx is. It remains one of the most vibrant and diverse communities in the World. My family emigrated to the Bronx and now a generation later we bring our Latin American decent family to Mahwah. A community that has provided great schooling options and a even better future. Rock on America!!!!!!
Kevin May 21, 2012 at 02:54 PM
News flash Missy Mahwah does not Missy you at all. Thank you for moving so a normal thinking resident could move in. By the way the circus is great can you please pass the popcorn? Best regards where ever you are now. The rent a cops wish you the best. I hope your rent a cops our just as good as ours.
Andy Schmidt May 21, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Missy - you are getting your own story confused. a) Yes, mentioning the Bronx was stereotyping! Then why did YOU use that stereotype in your original message -- one part I took issue with, and thus picked up on that word. b) Your message did NOT make ANY point AT ALL about living in a complex vs. Airmont Rd/Fardale and the type of response. Your message contained absolutely nothing but name calling: "pretty boys", "pansies", "wouldn't last a minute" - another part I took issue with. c) In case you haven't noticed, you are not PREVENTED from speaking - but your nasty speech is being commented on. Or do you feel that Freedom of Speech only goes one way? As far as your speculating, that the type of response was based on the location - I happen to disagree with your viewpoint. I would expect the exact same response elsewhere in town - and I certainly would hope that the police would NOT give up on the situation if that should EVER happen with members of MY family! I had layed out the necessity for the action in detail, which you chose to ignore, likely because facts are hard to argue. But on THAT subject we'll just have to disagree since we BOTH are simply speculating.
Missy May 21, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Like I said, everyone is entitle to their own opinion. And as far as the PoliceMEN where I reside, they are "Outstanding" by far are they "rent a cops" Andy let me ask you a question. What exactly do you mean when you say you would expect that same exact response elsewhere in town? what part of town are you referring to? if I may ask just curious to know what you mean by that?
Missy May 21, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Actually I will leave it at this. Opinions are like A***holes everyone has one or knows one. Have a good day boys!! :)
Andy Schmidt May 21, 2012 at 05:20 PM
>> What exactly do you mean when you say you would expect that same exact response elsewhere in town? << The same circumstances will be handled the same anywhere else in town -- by which I was responding to your insinuation/speculation that the same report (knife/weapon) by a worried relative followed by the same irrational conduct (9/11?) and the same time constraints (people/kids returning from work/school) would not trigger the same response if it were to occur at certain streets or neighborhoods that YOU had mentioned. >> what part of town are you referring to << Any >> if I may ask just curious to know what you mean by that << http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elsewhere
Beef May 24, 2012 at 02:46 PM
William worked as a police officer in the bronx... he knows all about that... I'm sure... Right William?
Beef May 24, 2012 at 02:49 PM
yeah FULL NAME... you seem to have a good understanding of how things work with the law as well... you may worked in the same department as william...

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