UNION, NJ — A Union man is under arrest for attempted murder, drug possession, and possession of a weapon, and is currently under investigation for bias crimes in the form of swastikas and racial slurs found painted in front of Burnet Middle School.
Michael Castiglione, 49, of Union, was arrested last week after he rammed his vehicle into the back of a police officer’s car who was surveilling the playground area at the school. Officers had found a knife, drug paraphernalia, a small amount of heroin, and Nazi paraphernalia a day earlier at Castiglione’s home after officers recognized his car driving at high speeds through the neighborhood. According to the Union police department, Castiglione had been on their radar for quite some time.
After making threats to officers, it is believed that Castiglione was trying to kill the officer with his vehicle when he rammed into him from behind, then drove off. The officer recognized Castiglione, who was apprehended at his home later that day after a brief standoff with police.
Castiglione lives directly across from the middle school on Berwyn Street.
The injured officer, a 13-year veteran of the police department, was taken to Overlook Hospital for neck and back injuries and was released from the hospital later that day.
The saga began last month, when police officers investigated a report of swastikas sprayed on the sidewalk and sign at the middle school, along with a racial slur directed at African-Americans sprayed on the front sign of the school.
Just a week later, another swastika drawn onto a utility box in front of the school was reported.
On June 2, police officers were once again called in after two more swastikas were found painted on the school grounds.
Two days later, a can of paint was found on the ground in the grassy area of the playground at the school, with Castiglione near the can. When confronted by officers, Castiglione ran into his home across the street.
School staff has reported finding hypodermic needles on school grounds over the last two months, many of them found in the grassy areas of the school playground.
Police Director and Public Information Officer Dan Zieser told LocalSource that since Castiglione’s arrest, the bias incidents at the school have stopped. “Mr. Castiglione has been on our radar for years,” said Zieser, who said that Castiglione had previously spent approximately 20 years behind bars. “The syringes started being found on school grounds right after we were notified of his release by the New Jersey Department of Corrections, followed shortly by the discovery of the graffiti. The Union Police Department started with increased directed patrols at the school, but after several near apprehensions, it was decided to put a surveillance operation into effect. I know it has only been a few days since he is in custody, but we have not had any recurrence of activity. We continue to monitor the area of school,” he said.
Union Detective Captain Scott Breslow told LocalSource that the bias incidents at the school are still under investigation. “We do have occasional graffiti of a bias nature at schools, but not often,” Breslow said. “This was the first time that anyone was disposing of hypodermic needles on school property, which was very alarming. The school staff was able to clean or cover the graffiti, so the students were not alarmed by it, but I was concerned that a student might get poked by one of the discarded uncapped needles. The play area at the school is mostly grass and the needles were not easy to see.”
Breslow said that although officers have been hit before, the incident with Castiglione was unique. “We have had officers rammed by a stolen car, but this is unique in that the suspect snuck up on the officer who was sitting in his unmarked car and rammed him,” said Breslow.
Castiglione is being held at the Union Police Department headquarters pending transfer to the Union County Jail, with bail set at $400,000.
Anyone with information can contact Detective Peter Simon at 908-851-5080.