MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ – Mayor Paul Mirabelli read a statement regarding the allegations of misconduct within the Mountainside Police Department at the Monday, July 23 meeting. During the public comment session several residents came forward with concerns of the lawsuits’ impact on property taxes.
Mirabelli stated that the borough has filed disciplinary charges against Lieutenant Thomas Murphy who has been suspended without pay as of July 13. This decision was based on the review conducted by former Assistant U.S. Attorney William Maderer.
Mirabelli also stated that Police Chief Allan Attanasio and Detective Sergeant Andrew Huber have filed their retirement papers with the state pension board and were removed from the borough’s payroll as of July 20. Any decision regarding their pension rests with the state pension board as it remains outside the borough’s jurisdiction.
The statement also addressed the rumors regarding the lawsuit and its effect on Mountainside. “These rumors are being spread for political purposes and only serve to harm the borough,” Mirabelli said. He noted that the borough real estate sales have not been negatively impacted by the alleged conduct of certain members of the police department. Mirabelli explained that just recently two Mountainside homes were sold in 11 and 16 days respectively. He also pointed out a recent New York Times’ real estate section article which called Mountainside a “hidden treasure.”
Lastly, Mirabelli assured that the safety of Mountainside residents has not been impacted by the investigation. “We are fortunate to live in a safe town, where our police know the residents and our neighborhoods. Lt. Joseph Giannuzzi reports that the department is functioning well and that the officers are attending to all matters as required,” he stated. Giannuzzi has also been meeting with former New Jersey State Police Superintendent Joseph Santiago and his firm to discuss police department operations. “Mr. Santiago plans to meet with additional members of the force next week and we expect his review to conclude shortly. We look forward to his recommendations as to best practices we can institute so we can turn Mountainside into the standard bearer for police professionalism,” Mirabelli noted.
Mirabelli pointed out that the legal proceedings are often lengthy and the governing body cannot share all the details due to the rules of confidentiality.
While Mirabelli said he and the council would like to put the issue behind us, many residents said that they fear that the cost of the ongoing litigation will affect property taxes. They also asked the governing body how much coverage the borough’s insurance provides for legal costs.
Borough Attorney John Post explained that any punitive damages are not covered by the insurance. However, the insurance is covering approximately half of the cost of the legal services by Gibbons Law Firm which the borough hired. The council has approved a contract with Santiago which is not to exceed $17,500. Post noted that at this point the borough is not expecting to incur punitive expenses. The council had earlier approved a $200,000 use of emergency funds to cover legal expenses due to the alleged misconduct in the Police Department.
Residents were also asking if the borough conducts mandatory training for employees in order to prevent hostile work environment incidents. One resident asked why the borough did not act sooner to halt the hostile culture at the police department. Another resident urged the council to consider alternative methods to resolve the issues instead of the long and expensive legal process.