MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — The borough appears set to change Lt. Joseph Giannuzzi’s title to “police chief” from “officer in charge” more than a year after he was given command of the department amid a sexual harassment suit and scandal that saw the resignation or suspension of three officers.
Council President and Police Committee Chairman Keith Turner announced at the Aug. 6 workshop meeting of the Mountainside Borough Council that Giannuzzi would officially be promoted to department chief at the next scheduled council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 20.
Giannuzzi was placed in command of the 19-member department in May 2018, after a lawsuit was filed against the borough by five male officers within the department and a female part-time clerical employee that accused then-Chief Alan Attanasio, Detective Sgt. Andrew Huber and Lt. Thomas Murphy of various offenses.
“Since he’s been appointed, he’s performed admirably under difficult circumstances,” Mayor Paul Mirabelli said of Giannuzzi in a phone interview with LocalSource on Aug. 12. “He’s performed in such a manner that we believe he should be made chief. The time was just right for him to become chief.”
The lawsuit made references to sex toys, use of a flashlight to touch department members’ buttocks, suggestive comments and placing genitals on officers’ food.
Attanasio, Huber and Murphy were suspended May 16, 2018; Attanasio and Huber subsequently resigned, and Murphy was suspended without pay in July 2018, and charged with disciplinary violations. He has disputed the charges and is scheduled to have a hearing on them in October, borough counsel John Post said in an Aug. 9 phone interview.
Attanasio and Huber resigned after reaching an agreement with the borough in July 2018 to forego about $90,000 in accrued vacation and sick time. Murphy requested a hearing after being suspended without pay July 13, 2018.
The lawsuit contended the harassment dated back 20 years and began under the previous police chief, Jim Debbie, who held the post from 1998 to 2014 and then became borough administrator. Debbie, 70, retired as borough administrator July 31, and was replaced by Tom Atkins.
“Jim resigned after 43 years of service to borough, as a police officer, police chief, administrator, head of emergency management,” Mirabelli said. “It was just time for Jim to retire. It had nothing to do with the lawsuit.”
Additionally, Mirabelli said the borough and department have begun implementing suggestions made by Joseph Santiago, the former police director in Newark, Trenton and Irvington, and who also served a seven-month stint as the head of the New Jersey State Police. Santiago was brought in to review the Mountainside Police Department following the lawsuit.
“Some have been implemented, some are in final review,” Mirabelli said.
Post said the recommendations that have already been implemented include a change in the hiring standards, but he did not specify further. Those were adopted in December, he said. Other changes include promotional standards, which are awaiting review from the union local of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, and workplace harassment policies, both of which have been approved by council, Post said.
A non-personnel issue that has been approved and awaiting implementation is reporting procedures between the department and the borough’s Police Committee, Post said.
Santiago is still a consultant to the borough, but Post said he was unsure if he was engaged in a specific project.