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Couple Under Psychiatric Evaluation After Six-Hour Police Standoff

Police fired tear gas into home, husband and wife taken into custody

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.

Glenn Murphy May 18, 2012 at 12:39 AM
With this "Incident".. Mahwah is "GOING to The Dogs" in terms of MAJOR Problems! Sad to read "a Husband & Wife" going at it! And I think! iLLegal Drugs might be the Problem! As for the fact that :It's a "Low Income/Moderate Income" housing complex and they(Husband & Wife) due meet the requirements. It's Sad that to read about this in the news about mahwah.. Just think: If that DAMN Mall was built and that was: Robbery Susspect inside a Mahwah HOME.. MORE PROBLEMS on the WAY!
Kim May 18, 2012 at 10:53 AM
The more I think about this, the more I believe this event did not warrant media coverage at all. My thoughts turn to the children involved and the horror & embarrassment they must be going through because their personal family issues have been splashed across the "news". Why did this story have to be written for everyone including classmates to learn of their plight? I am saddened by what is considered newsworthy in today's world. This family would have been better served by respecting their privacy & allowing them to work through their problems with clergy and medical professionals. Yes, I understand the police had to intervene (which was unfortunate) but did their misery have to be publicized? My thoughts & prayers are with the family especially the innocent children.
John smith May 20, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Fascinating. Another story of the government sticking its nose in where it doesnt belong. NJ really needs some more dead cops, perhaps it would make them think twice about sticking their noses in where they're not welcome.
Beef May 24, 2012 at 03:00 PM
john... you sound like a criminal yourself... and I'm sure you are or have been. Comments like that only come from people who resist authority and want to do what's wrong. You sound like you're on a good path... keep it up. I'm sure you'll go far in life.
Andy Schmidt May 24, 2012 at 04:00 PM
"John Smith", their job precisely is to investigate on weapon threats and to persist, specially when they are being hindered in their attempt to ascertain that everyone's safe! A RELATIVE calls in, concerned that a couple has a domestic dispute, with a weapon involved (knife) - and kids will be returning to that scene later from school. Police needs to talk to both individuals independently to make sure no one is under duress when they respond through a closed door that everything is just peachy (when reality one might have a knife at their throat). As you know from the highly publicized cases (just in the past 4 weeks), people do commit violent crimes (including murder) against their spouses and their own children all the time in this country -- in fact, more often than not, the perpetrators of violent crimes are within someone's immediate circle. The police cannot take the risk and assume that this "would never happen in Mahwah" and simply leave it alone. Specially when people clearly are not in a rational state of mind (e.g., invoking references to 9/11 !?). So - they were sticking their nose EXACTLY where it belonged. They NEVER are welcome by the perpetrators - which according to your logic means they should always just abandon a crime scene?

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