A Mahwah couple is undergoing psychiatric evaluation at Bergen Regional Medical Center after a county SWAT team forcibly removed them from their Ramapo Brae Lane condo, Chief James Batelli said Wednesday afternoon.
Police broke down the front door to the home with a battering ram and shot tear gas inside before removing the couple.
Joseph and Rose 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.
“For about six hours, we made attempts to negotiate with them, using SWAT and hostage negotiators, relatives and the family priest,” Batelli said. “We reached a point where it was apparent they weren’t going to come out, which was really all we were asking them to do.”
Batelli called the couple’s responses to police tactics, “increasingly irrational. They were talking about conspiracy theories – the Nazis, Waco, Texas, and 9/11. We became increasingly concerned with the welfare of both individuals.”
Police broke down the door to the home, and requested the couple come out. Batelli said they refused.
“We then told them we would be sending in pepper spray, and shot it through windows on both sides of the home. They still did not come out after that,” he said. “So county officers went in. They found Mrs. LaRocco on the first floor, still highly combative. Mr. LaRocco was on the second floor, and surrendered to county police.”
The couple’s three children were not home at the time of the incident, Batelli said.
“They are staying with other family members tonight,” he said.
The nature of the initial dispute between the two is unknown. Batelli said that made negotiations “very difficult. Usually, we know the issue we are trying to resolve. In this case, it was hard to develop any type of meaningful dialogue.”
Batelli said police became “increasingly concerned” about the welfare of the couple, “and the surrounding community,” during the standoff. Residents directly surrounding the LaRocco’s unit were evacuated, and others nearby were asked to remain inside their homes, he said.
“During the day, the complex was largely empty, because people were at work and children were at school,” he said. “As we were approaching 4 o’clock, more people were starting to come home.”
About 80 children from Betsy Ross, Lenape Meadows, Joyce Kilmer, Ramapo Ridge and Mahwah High School were dropped off to the complex during the standoff. “We were in contact with the district superintendent,” Batelli said of school bus drop offs to the condo complex Wednesday. “The bus stopped at the entrance to the complex, and students were escorted by officers to their parents.” Those who lived in close proximity to the LaRocco’s unit were escorted to friends’ residences, he said.
The LaRocco's own their Ramapo Brae unit, but Joseph is currently unemployed, Batelli said.
The couple was committed to Bergen Regional for psychiatric evaluation against their own will, Batelli said. They will face charges after they are given medical clearance. “We are still evaluating everything that happened to determine exactly what the charges will be,” Batelli said.