MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — The attorney for a borough police officer who was suspended without pay Friday, July 13, said he and his client will be “vigorously contesting” claims made during a disciplinary hearing with the borough’s labor attorney.
No hearing date has been set for Lt. Thomas Murphy, who was identified along with police Chief Allan Attanasio and Detective Sgt. Andrew Huber in a lawsuit citing harassment dating back 20 years that was brought against the borough in May.
Borough Council attorney John Post said he expects the appointment of a hearing officer to take place at the next regular council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 18. A hearing date will be set sometime after, Post said in a phone interview Thursday, Aug. 23.
Murphy’s attorney, Robert Norton, and Art Thibeault, the labor attorney for the borough, will present their cases to a hearing officer. As is customary in such hearings, the officer will file a report with recommendations, up to and including immediate dismissal. The recommendation would be forwarded to the Borough Council’s Police Committee members, Keith Turner, Glenn Mortimer and Robert Messler. They would present it to the rest of the council.
“We are vigorously contesting any charges leveled by the town,” Norton said in a phone interview Thursday, Aug. 23.
Regarding the hearing, the Westfield-based attorney said: “The proceedings and the penalties sought are disproportionate to the alleged action questioned.”
According to the 46-page lawsuit filed in Superior Court on May 11 by officers Jeffrey Stinner, Christopher Feighner, Richard Latargia, Thomas Norton and James Urban, and Amy Colineri, currently a part-time clerical employee in the department, the harassment dates back nearly 20 years and accuses borough officials of ignoring it.
Among the numerous allegations in the lawsuit are that Attanasio pointed a laser-sighted pistol at subordinates when he was a lower-ranking officer.
Huber is accused of possessing and displaying a sex toy, which 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 The 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 is Murphy, according to McMahon.
McMahon said he tried to show the Borough Council the video during a January 2017 council meeting but was referred to the internal affairs department or the Union County Prosecutor’s Office by Mayor Paul Mirabelli.
Huber was identified in the lawsuit as placing his genitals on food, with encouragement from Murphy, photographing it and then showing the photograph to the officer whose food it was after they had consumed the food.
Among the allegations against Murphy in the lawsuit are that he used a flashlight to jab other male officers in the backsides and that he and Huber would taunt other officers in a “gazing game” in which he would accuse the staff officers of staring at their groin areas and suggesting they were gay.
Attanasio and Huber were placed on paid administrative leave and submitted resignation letters addressed to Lt. Joseph Giannuzzi dated Wednesday, July 25, ending their employment with the borough. They were removed from the municipality’s payroll as of July 20.
Mirabelli said the borough decided to suspend Murphy after receiving the results of a review conducted by former Assistant U.S. Attorney William Maderer.
Murphy is about 15 months short of reaching the 25-year mark in service, at which point he would be entitled to health benefits as part of his retirement package, Post said.
The council voted to indemnify hearing officer Robert Verry at a June 19 meeting.
Verry was indemnified “from any claims or lawsuits arising from disciplinary proceedings during the discharge of his duties.”
Post said an attorney who represented a member of the police department at a disciplinary hearing where Verry served as the officer, threatened to file a lawsuit against him.
Verry asked the borough to “provide some protection if that attorney does indeed” take legal action against him, Post said.
That hearing did not involve Murphy, Attanasio or Huber.An appeal of the disciplinary hearing would go to the Superior Court in Elizabeth.