Mountainside police chief, senior officer to retire

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — Police Chief Allan Attanasio and Detective Sgt. Andrew Huber are retiring, borough officials have announced, two and a half months after they were identified in a lawsuit against the municipality accusing them of harassment.

The two were removed from the borough’s payroll July 20, according to a statement read by Mayor Paul Mirabelli at the July 23 Mountainside Borough Council meeting.

Attanasio, who had an annual salary of $150,104, and Huber had been on paid administrative leave.
A third officer identified in the lawsuit, Lt. Thomas Murphy, has requested a hearing after the borough suspended him without pay July 13, Mirabelli said. Labor attorney Arthur Thibault will represent the borough at the hearing, for which a date has not yet been set.

Mirabelli said the borough suspended Murphy after receiving the results of a review ordered by council and conducted by former Assistant U.S. Attorney William Maderer.

The 46-page lawsuit was filed May 11 in Superior Court against the borough by officers Jeffrey Stinner, Christopher Feighner, Richard Latargia, Thomas Norton and James Urban as well as Amy Colineri, who formerly worked as a part-time dispatcher and now works as a part-time clerical employee in the department.

The suit includes allegations of harassment and assault dating back nearly 20 years within the department and accusations that borough officers ignored it.

Among the numerous claims are that Attanasio pointed a laser-sighted pistol at subordinates when he was a lower-ranking officer. The lawsuit also makes references to sex toys, use of a flashlight to touch department members’ buttocks, suggestive comments and even placing genitals in officers’ food.

Huber is accused of possessing and displaying a phallic sex toy that he would throw at officers and wave in their faces. Westfield-based lawyer Joshua McMahon, who has in the past represented members of the Mountainside Police Department, provided LocalSource with a video that he said shows Huber removing the toy from a filing cabinet and waving it in an unidentified man’s face. The man in the video, who appears to be recording the incident on his phone, McMahon said, is Murphy.

The Union County Prosecutor’s Office knew of the allegations about a year before the lawsuit was filed, according to letters obtained by the LocalSource through an open public records request.

One letter details what the office investigated and recommended to Attanasio. The letter, dated Sept. 28, 2017, was signed by former acting county Prosecutor Thomas Isenhour and written by acting Assistant Prosecutor John Esmerado.

The prosecutor’s office decided not to 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, meaning it found Huber had violated policy. Prosecutors made an “unfounded finding” regarding Huber’s alleged actions in the locker room, meaning it found insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the actions. Prosecutors recommended that Attanasio “consider” administrative or disciplinary action for Huber.

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 action was taken.
Candidates for borough council Anjali Mehrotra and Ileana Montes are calling for an independent investigation into the borough’s administration and council.

According to the letter from the candidates addressed to Mirabelli, and provided by them to LocalSource, council President Keith Turner and the council, the investigation is necessary because of “nepotism, favoritism and covering up disgusting and, in some instances, criminal behavior to protect your friends.”

“The alleged corruption in Borough Hall and the police department appears to have run deep and has lasted years,” according to the letter, signed by the Democrats’ campaign manager, Daniela Faibes.

“All of the men named in the lawsuit have long-time friendly relationships with Mayor Mirabelli, Council President Turner, and other members of the council. Business Administrator (Jim) Debbie supervised the police department while many of these alleged acts occurred.”

According to a statement released by Mirabelli, the candidates’ call for an investigation into the council and administration is “simply political posturing.”

“If these people attended borough council meetings they’d know that the few people who have spoken about these issues at our meetings have been genuinely supportive of the council’s transparency and in the actions we’ve taken to address the issues,” the statement says.

Mirabelli said at the July 23 meeting that Lt. Joseph Giannuzzi, the current officer in charge, reported that the department is “functioning well.” Mirabelli said Joseph Santiago, the former head of the New Jersey State Police, has been hired to conduct a review of the Mountainside Police Department, and is continuing to meet with members of the department.

When asked if the borough would move to fill the positions vacated by Attanasio and Huber, Mirabelli said in an email July 26, “There are no plans to reduce the size of our police force. As part of his review, Joseph Santiago will recommend best practices to ensure transparency of operations, accountability, and professionalism. Those recommendations will guide the borough as it undertakes the process to hire new police officers.”