HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - Hasbrouck Heights Police Chief Michael Colaneri Sr. has filed a civil lawsuit against the Borough of Hasbrouck Heights and Mayor John “Jack” DeLorenzo, individually and in his role as Mayor, as well John/Jane Does 1 to 10.  

The lawsuit filed on July 1 in Bergen County Superior Courts under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 et seq) alleges that he has been subject of acts of retribution for supporting a then-Mayor Rose Heck in her 2015 run as independent candidate against DeLorenzo. The suit also alleges that the Mayor has interfered with his management of the Hasbrouck Heights Police Department, including during the recent pandemic. 

Among the charges, the suit states that: 

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  • Following a Memorial Day Weekend meeting of the Police Committee which he was not aware of, and as a result did not attend, he was removed from his traditional spot on the Police Committee by Mayor DeLorenzo.

  • The defendants changed the police promotional process to exclude him having any significant say regarding promotions within the Police Department.  The percentage assigned to the Police Chief’s “score” was “drastically” reduced, his recommendations given little value, and he was not allowed to participate in the interview process with candidates for promotion.

  • DeLorenzo restructured the department to prevent the promotion of Michael Colaneri Jr, the plaintiff's son, who serves as Lieutenant of the Investigations Division to Captain, by eliminating the Captain’s position in the department. It also notes that in the suit that DeLorenzo had served as a Captain in the Investigations Division while serving as a Hasbrouck Heights Police Officer. 

  • Following the termination of a Hasbrouck Heights police officer after refusing to participate in a departmental disciplinary hearing, DeLorenzo unilaterally reinstated the Officer to his position. 

  • In February 2017, the Defendants, by the way of the Mayor and Council’s Police Committee, initiated an internal affairs investigation without any legitimate basis regarding the Department’s overtime policy.  When the Bergen County prosecutor and Borough investigations found the complaint to be unfounded, he was never notified of the findings.  

  • In January 2019, DeLorenzo reduced the Police Committee to himself and one member of the Council, which the plaintiff states was contrary to the Borough’s Ordinance. 

  • The Defendants without legitimate basis initiated two investigations by two different entities, The Rogers Group and the law firm of Florio Kenny Raval LLP of the HHPD and the Plaintiff’s management thereof.  The investigations were initiated with a retaliatory motive, and to embarrass, harass and interfere with the Plaintiff’s operation of the Department, in violation of his rights and in retaliation for his previous support of Mayor Heck in her campaign against DeLorenzo.

  • On December 18, 2019, defendants served Plaintiff with a preliminary notice of disciplinary action charging conduct unbecoming/inappropriate demeanor and failure to report an alleged incident that occurred on July 28, 2019.  The incident resulted in a criminal assault charge filed against Chief Colanieri by his son-in-law.  (The charges were later dismissed.)

  • DeLorenzo conducted an internal affairs investigation of the matter, in direct contravention of Attorney General Guidelines which requires any internal affairs investigations of a Police Chief to be conducted by County Prosecutor’s Office.  Additionally, Plaintiff was never served a “target letter” providing him formal notice of investigation. Also, DeLorenzo discussed alleged incident and investigation in public and private Borough Council meetings, despite Plaintiff not receiving a Rice Notice advising personnel matter would be discussed. 

  • Defendants seek to impose a 5-day unpaid suspension, which Plaintiff feels are without merit and retaliatory and in violation of NJCRA.  

  • On February 21, 2020, Defendants passed an ordinance rescinding 24/7 use of a Borough-provided vehicle which he had since he was named Chief in 1999.

  • In December 2018, defendants retroactively gave Plaintiff as Chief a 2% pay raise for 2018, while other superior officers received a higher overall raise. For 2019, defendant gave Plaintiff a 1% pay raise.

  • On April 2, 2020, Plaintiff received notice from the Florio law firm that an attorney with the firm was retained by the Defendants to conduct an investigation on behalf of the Borough into “allegations of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and mismanagement with the department.” This is violation of New Jersey Attorney General Guidelines which explicitly provide that A.) any complaint against a Chief of Police must be investigated by the County Prosecutor or the Attorney General, and B.) under no circumstances may a law enforcement agency’s internal affair’s investigatory function be contracted or delegated to a private entity.

  • On or about June 29, 2020, approximately 13 months before the Plaintiff's mandatory retirement, the Defendant notified the Plaintiff that the did not intend to compensate him for all unused sick, vacation and other time which Plaintiff properly accrued over the course of his 40-year career.  

This continues a contentious year for the Borough of Hasbrouck Heights and its Police Chief. Last August, the Patrol Division of the Hasbrouck Heights Police Department, in a statement by PBA 102 President John Schwedhelm, issued a statement of “no confidence” and asked that an investigation into the HHPD be started, citing “nepotism, workplace harassment, intimidation and fear.”

Two weeks later, Colaneri was suspended for the incident involving his son-in-law. He was reinstated two weeks later when the charges were dismissed.  In September, a former female applicant registered her complaints to the Council concerning her experience with the hiring process during 2014.  

 

 

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