Letter details prosecutor’s look at Mountainside PD case

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — The Union County Prosecutor’s Office knew of the now-infamous sex toy that was cited in a lawsuit by five police officers and a borough employee about a year before they sued, a newly obtained letter shows.

The 46-page suit accused Sgt. Andrew Huber of inappropriately touching others in the department with the sex toy, police Chief Allan Attanasio pointing his gun at other officers, and additional allegations against other ranking officers that have rocked the local police department.

Officers Christopher Feighner, Richard Latargia, Thomas Norton, Jeffrey Stinner, James Urban and part-time borough employee Amy Colineri filed the suit in May against the borough. The borough soon after issued a statement noting that the Union County Prosecutor’s Office had already investigated at least some of the claims mentioned in the civil complaint.

Thus far, the prosecutor’s office has not confirmed or denied any investigation.
But a letter obtained by LocalSource through an open public records request details what the office investigated and recommended made to Attanasio, the chief who the lawsuit identifies as being aware of the behavior and condoning it.

The letter, dated Sept. 28, 2017, was signed by former acting county Prosecutor Thomas Isenhour and written by acting Assistant Prosecutor John Esmerado. It sheds new light on what officials say they knew about the allegations in the lawsuit and when they knew it.

The prosecutor’s office decided not to criminally indict Huber for allegedly hitting a civilian in the head with a sex toy inside the police station, leaving soiled toilet paper in an officer’s boot and touching another officer’s genitals in the police department’s locker room, according to the letter.

The letter stated that the prosecutor’s office made a “sustained finding” with regard to Huber’s sex toy and toilet paper incidents. It made an “unfounded finding” regarding Huber’s alleged actions in the locker room.

The prosecutor’s office recommended that Attanasio “consider” administrative or disciplinary action for Huber, who they say “violated” Mountainside Police Rules and Regulations.

Mayor Paul Mirabelli previously said in a statement that an unspecified course of action was taken after the investigation by the prosecutor’s office. Borough attorney John Post said he could not detail what disciplinary was taken.

“If we felt that we were free to divulge this information, we would,” Post said in a June 25 phone interview.
The lawsuit mentions some of the allegations that the prosecutor’s office probed, but the civil complaint also includes additional accusations. For example, it was unclear if the prosecutor’s office investigated allegations that Attanasio pointed his laser-sighted revolver at other officers, one of the more serious claims in the suit.

Mark Spivey, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said he could not give details of an investigation when asked if the office knew about that claim. Borough officials also have said many of the claims outlined in the lawsuit were new to them.

The police union attorney — who was representing the six who later filed suit — met with the Post Feb. 28 to discuss claims of a “hostile work environment” allegedly created by Huber and a lieutenant, the borough said in a statement. The specifics of those claims were not detailed in the borough’s statement.

Post’s law firm was directed by the borough to investigate those unspecified accusations, but the six who made the allegations did not make themselves available for interviews, the borough claimed in its statement.

When the lawsuit was filed about three months later, the borough claimed it “contained allegations of current conduct that had not been mentioned by” the police union president during that initial meeting in February.

The mayor, Mirabelli, also said in a previous statement that Post had turned over the information he received at that February meeting to the prosecutor’s office as well as a copy of the civil complaint.

Yet borough officials may have learned of issues within the police department at a Jan. 17, 2017 council meeting, when attorney Joshua McMahon first attempted to show what he says was a video of Huber waving a sex toy in an unidentified person’s face.
“I don’t want to see it, sir, quite frankly,” Mirabelli said as McMahon held up his computer to show the council the video. “You’re not going to grandstand here.”

The mayor got into a heated exchange with McMahon at that meeting, telling the lawyer he should go through the police department’s internal affairs unit with his “evidence.” He advised McMahon to go to the county prosecutor’s office if he felt the local police department’s internal affairs units would not handle the issue properly.

McMahon declined to tell LocalSource who had retained him. However, a statement by the mayor referring to last year’s council meeting alleged that McMahon was an attorney for Mountainside Officer Michael Pasquale. Pasquale has not filed suit with the borough.

McMahon did file a complaint with the prosecutor’s office, but not one regarding his allegations of “pervasive and systemic problems” within the police department. Instead, McMahon filed an Open Public Meetings Act complaint with the county prosecutor’s office, sending them footage of the meeting and claiming his First Amendment right to speak was violated.

LocalSource filed a public records request with the county to obtain a copy of McMahon’s complaint and the response from the county prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor’s office did not pursue his OPMA complaint, records show.

Ultimately, the requested documents were given to LocalSource. The county compliance manager for the Open Public Records Act also sent the letter detailing the former acting prosecutor’s probe, which was “provided for the sake of
context.”

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