“I can’t believe that just because he has a badge, they are just going to be easy on him.”
That was Diana Lozano’s first thought on Friday after Romulo Meneses-Alvarez, a former Elizabeth, New Jersey police officer, was sentenced to 270 days in jail after pleading guilty to driving drunk, tampering with evidence, and killing a motorcyclist in Union County last Halloween.
That motorcyclist was her younger brother, Jairo Lozano, 29, an office builder and a father of two daughters.
“People that mistreat an animal get more in prison time than that,” Diana Lozano told The Daily Beast.
Judge John M. Deitch, who called the officer’s actions “troubling,” issued a lesser punishment than the one prosecutors had originally requested, stating his decision was for a “purposeful but not malicious” amount of time.
“This is a call for justice. Such a big crime with so little importance to it,” Lozano said, pleading with the state judge to reconsider.
To make matters worse, the mother of four added, when the guilty cop finally spoke directly to the judge, he tearfully announced he would fight his punishment altogether.
“I make no excuses for it, judge. I’m wholly responsible for my actions, not only for Jairo, but for his family and for what I put my family through,” he said in court. “Neither one of those families deserved that. I may deserve that, but they shouldn't. I just ask for mercy.”
Lozano, a 34-year-old freight forwarder, said the former cop’s decision to appeal has “the family in shock” because they already felt like he got away with murder.
“He has left our family destroyed. We lived together and were extremely close. He was like my oldest child even if we were only a couple years apart” Lozano said. “Our nieces life dramatically and we just couldn’t believe what we were hearing.”
Meneses-Alvarez pleaded guilty in June to strict liability vehicular homicide in the third degree, tampering with physical evidence in the fourth degree, and driving while intoxicated when he turned left into Lozano as he was going straight through an intersection on his motorcycle.
He was initially suspended without pay from the Elizabeth Police Department, but was fired after pleading guilty. The department declined to comment for this story.
Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Keith Abrams—who prosecuted the case due to a conflict of interest within the Union County prosecutor's office—said in court that the former cop had “three gin-and-tonics and some shots” at Central Park, a local bar.
While Meneses-Alvarez originally took an Uber home, Abrams told the judge, he got out and decided to drive instead. Shortly thereafter, he hit Jairo Lozano.
Days after the ex-cop termination, Lozano’s family filed a civil lawsuit against both Meneses-Alvarez and Central Park bar for their roles in Jairo’s death, saying both parties are funeral expenses and emotional damages. The bar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On that same Halloween evening, Jairo was driving home from watching a game at his friend’s house to meet his sister, who was putting her children to sleep after a night of trick-or-treating, his sister recounted.
Around 11 p.m., Lozano got a call from a stranger who lived outside of the crash site. Though she normally “does not answer calls from unknown numbers,” Lozano acknowledged, she answered the phone to a man had gone to school with her brother and recognized his bike in the crash because of its distinctive “gold rims.”
“I could see pieces of metal everywhere,” Lozano remembered, after hanging up with the stranger and running to the crash site. “I saw the bike on the floor and I jumped on the floor. I was trying to see if that was his bike and when I saw the hat he was wearing on the floor and the shoe he was wearing, I knew it was him.”
Meneses-Alvarez stayed on the scene until police arrived, but moved his car, making it more difficult for his fellow officers to investigate. He admitted to tampering with evidence by re-positioning his Jeep Wrangler after the crash.
“It's been already a year and he’s just like a king, walking on the street,” Maria Lozano, the victim’s mother, said through an interpreter in court on Friday. “I ask myself, if it had been my son who hit Mr. Meneses... would it be my son on the street at this point?”
“If it was one of us everything would be different,” her daughter added in an interview with The Daily Beast.
The family alleges that not only did Meneses-Alvarez receive favorable treatment from the judge, but that his fellow cops protected him following the incident.
The responding officers’ body-camera footage—which was were turned off and on multiple times during the ordeal—shows Meneses-Alvarez kneeling beside an unconscious Lozano, before helping the paramedics get him into a stretcher.
“His girlfriend was already at the hospital when I arrived and they wouldn’t let her in or me even though I was a family member. I just walked in anyway and they said they trying to resuscitate him for about 30 minutes before they said he was dead,” Lozano said.
The 30-year-old ex-cop then defended himself to his colleagues, Adams said in court, telling officers on-scene that Lozano was driving his 2005 GSX Suzuki motorcycle without his lights on—a claim later disproven by surveillance footage.
Authorities confirmed that Meneses-Alvarez left the scene shortly after, but when his superiors called him to return, he didn't answer his phone. Several hours later, when he was finally found, police issued a warrant and brought him to the hospital where he was found over the legal limit.
“The officers’ conduct that evening was abhorrent,” Josh McMahon, their attorney, told The Daily Beast on Friday. “They wear body cameras and they were routinely shutting them down. The police department that responded was the one he works for. They were friends.”
Prosecutors noted the ex-cop was over the limit hours after the incident, with an expert estimating that his blood alcohol content at the time of the crash would have been double the legal limit.
“Police officers on-scene did great damage by letting [Meneses-Alvarez] leave and shutting off the camera,” McMahon said. “He was MIA for hours, critical hours that could have changed this case.”
“The Lozano family appreciates the efforts of the assistant prosecutors to help give their family justice, and they remain hopeful the appellate division will agree with Judge Deitch that a period of incarceration is necessary to allow the former officer to reflect upon this tragic loss of life,” McMahon said in a statement on Friday.
Meneses-Alvarez’s attorney, Robert Norton, argued that his client’s multiple legal battles and guilt was enough of a deterrent to ensure the ex-cop would not reoffend, therefore not needing a jail sentence.
“I don’t think there’s a remote chance this man will ever get involved in anything illegal again,” Norton argued in court.
Norton also asked for a stay while Meneses-Alvarez appealed the sentence, to which the judge—appointed in 2014 by Republican Gov. Chris Christie—granted one week of freedom to the cop to see what the higher court decides. He did, however, confiscate the former cop’s passport.
But for Diana Lozano, the former cop’s second chance at life is just another reminder of what her brother lost.
“He worked very hard and was talking to me about how he was going to buy a home this year and fix it up,” Lozano concluded, adding they were really close and she referred to him as her “eldest child.”
“Now he won’t get the chance.”