Prosecutor rebuffs claim against former police chief

Photo via the Mountainside police Facebook page
From left: Thomas Murphy, Allan Attanasio and Andrew Huber.

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — The Union County Prosecutor’s Office has found no proof that the borough’s former police chief pointed a gun at other officers — a claim contained in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the municipality in May.

According to the letter dated Nov. 1 and signed by Acting Prosecutor Michael Monahan, the UCPO investigated allegations that former police chief Allan Attanasio pointed a gun at officers Jeffrey Stinner, Christopher Feighner, Richard Latargia and Thomas Norton.

A link to the letter, which is addressed to Officer in Charge Lt. Joe Giannuzzi, appeared on the borough’s website on Nov. 1.

According to the letter, “We have interviewed the above four officers, additional members of the Mountainside Police and former Chief Attanasio. After a review of all the evidence, we cannot sustain, beyond a reasonable doubt, an indictable crime or a violation of the Mountainside Police Rules and Regulations.”

The allegations against Attanasio were part of a 46-page lawsuit that was filed May 11 in Superior Court against the borough by officers Stinner, Feighner, Latargia, Norton and James Urban, along with Amy Colineri, a former part-time dispatcher who now works as a part-time clerical employee in the department.

The lawsuit alleges behavior dating back nearly 20 years, accusing Detective Sgt. Andrew Huber and Lt. Thomas Murphy of being the principal offenders, as well as Attanasio. Among the numerous allegations in the lawsuit are that Attanasio, when he was a lower-ranking officer, pointed a laser-sighted pistol at subordinates. The lawsuit also makes references to sex.

The UCPO did not investigate those allegations.
During a Nov. 5 phone interview, borough attorney John Post said, “Promptly after receiving the complaint that was filed May 11, the entire complaint was forwarded to the County Prosecutor’s Office for his review.”
Mayor Paul Mirabelli said at the borough’s June 5 council meeting that the prosecutor’s office was conducting an investigation.

Signatures by Attanasio and Huber on matching 16-word resignation letters dated July 25 and addressed to Giannuzzi ended their employment with the borough, and they were removed from the municipality’s payroll as of July 20. State records show Attanasio had an annual salary of $150,104.

Attanasio and Huber agreed to forego about $90,000 in accrued vacation and sick time as part of their resignation settlements with the borough.

Attanasio has given up a claim to $37,918, and Huber has waived claims to $52,346, Post said at the council meeting Aug. 7.

Claims of misconduct surfaced during a January 2017 meeting when Westfield-based attorney Joshua McMahon referenced allegations of drug abuse, racism and “sexual offenses” in the borough’s police department. He tried to show the council a video he also provided to LocalSource.

Mirabelli instructed McMahon to take his concerns about harassment in the department to the internal affairs department or the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, which did investigate several claims that became public when the lawsuit was filed.

A letter obtained by LocalSource through an open public records requested details of what the office investigated and the recommendations made 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.

UCPO recommended that Attanasio “consider” administrative or disciplinary action for Huber, who it said “violated” Mountainside Police rules and regulations.

McMahon declined to tell LocalSource who had retained him. However, a statement by Mirabelli referring to last year’s council meeting alleged that McMahon was an attorney for former Mountainside Officer Michael Pasquale.
McMahon was critical of the UCPO’s findings contained in the Nov. 1 letter.

“It is readily apparent that the Union County Prosecutor’s Office generally, and John Esmerado specifically, are either unwilling or incapable of investigating members of law enforcement who commit crimes,” McMahon said in a Nov. 15 interview. “To have a police chief point a loaded gun at cops and retire on a huge six-figure pension is absurd and severely damages public confidence in the impartial administration of justice.”

When asked why the letter was linked to the borough’s web page, Post said, “The public has an interest in knowing the results of an investigation regarding our former police chief.”