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MOUNTAINSIDE — This police department’s top brass sexually harassed and physically assaulted underlings while using racist slurs, committing crimes and stealing from the public, according to a scandal-filled lawsuit filed by six department employees.

The complaint, filed last week in Superior Court in Elizabeth, claims Police Chief Attanasio and his predecessor, James Debbie — who retired in 2014 and was hired as the borough’s full-time business administrator — presided over an animal house police department where top officials ran wild with sexual hijinks and municipal leaders did nothing to stop them.

Many of the allegations are against Detective Sgt. Andrew Huber, who is described as often walking around naked in the restroom, throwing feces-smeared tissues at co-workers, placing his testicles on unsuspecting colleagues’ food and taunting the department with a sex toy dubbed “Big Blue.”

Huber is in charge of the department’s internal affairs unit, which investigates allegations of wrongdoing by fellow officers.

Lt. Thomas Murphy, the department’s second in command, is accused of attempting to sodomize officers with a flashlight.

“Murphy had a practice of taking his flashlight and ramming it into the anus area of other male officers while at police headquarters,” the lawsuit says, adding that James Urban, one of the lawsuit plaintiffs, was once hit “so hard that it hurt for Urban to sit down.”

Both Murphy and Huber also are accused of grabbing officers’ buttocks and genitals. Murphy is accused of sexually harassing a female subordinate, telling plaintiff Amy Colineri that he wanted to impregnate her.

And Attanasio, who was in charge of internal affairs before he was appointed acting chief in 2014, is accused of participating in these activities as well as pulling his own dangerous stunts.

In March 2011, Huber and then-Lt. Attanasio called Berkeley Heights police for assistance at a bar in Scotch Plains, saying that an officer was trapped and cornered in a basement, the lawsuit says. When Berkeley Heights cops entered the bar, Huber stole their car.

In a statement posted on the borough's website, municipal officials say Murphy and Huber have been suspended and that evidence connected to the case has been provided to the Union County Prosecutor's Office.

In April, two months after officials say they first learned about some of the allegations from the plaintiff's lawyer during a public meeting, the borough hired  a former assistant U.S. attorney to conduct an investigation.

Mayor Paul Mirabelli said county prosecutors investigated some of the allegations the plaintiff's attorney brought to light in February, "made certain findings, and recommended a course of action that was implemented." Mirabelli's written statement, however, does not explain what action was taken.

Mirabelli said he was mostly unaware of the allegations in the lawsuit but said he would make sure the allegations "are fully and thoroughly investigated, and that any improper conduct that is proven will be fully, effectively and appropriately addressed, no matter who was involved."

‘Big Blue’

A large portion of the 46-page lawsuit deals with the officers’ complaints about Huber’s sex toy, which he occasionally liked to wave in people’s faces.

In May 2016, Moutainside Fire Chief Anthony Pecorelli visited police headquarters.

“Det. Sgt. Huber then took out Big Blue and chased Pecorelli around headquarters with the dildo,” while the police chief shouted encouragement, the lawsuit says.

When Thomas Norton, one of the lawsuit plaintiffs, complained, he was told to “lighten up.”

Huber wasn’t the only one who liked to play with a sex toy, the lawsuit says.

During a PBA dinner in the fall of 2014, Murphy “brought a dildo, not believed to be Big Blue, to the dance.” Murphy displayed the object in front of Jeffrey Stinner’s appalled wife. When Stinner later complained, Murphy said his wife was a “prude.”

Mountainside Police Dept. via Facebook
Police Chief Attanasio, far left, and Lt. Thomas Murphy, far right. (Mountainside Police Dept. via Facebook)

‘Braining’ and feces

The lawsuit says Huber enjoyed placing his testicles on people’s food. Not only did the police chief not stop this, but he once took a picture, the complaint claims.

But Huber had nastier habits, the officers say. He once defecated in Norton’s boots.

They say he also was known to “hide quietly in the bathroom of the men’s locker room completely naked.”

“On several occasions, Huber stood on top of a bench in the locker room so that when an officer would walk into the men’s locker room, Huber’s penis would be face level to the officer,” the lawsuit says.

Several times in 2015, Huber “while sitting on the toilet, would fling excrement soiled toilet paper” at plaintiff Christopher Feighner, the lawsuit says.

Illegal activity

The lawsuit also describes actions that could be crimes.

Attanasio, for example, is accused of training his handgun’s laser pointer at people, which could be considered aggravated assault.

Murphy is accused of often “buzzing” Urban by tailgating Urban’s vehicle while speeding, propelling dust and dirt into Urban’s car and making it wobble.

The lawsuit says Huber got paid overtime while attending a family event and was paid twice — by the department and by the school district — for the hours he worked as a coach.

Murphy, meanwhile, has been allowed to run a business that provides armored cars during department time, the lawsuit says. In April 2016, Murphy opened a fruit stand as a second side business and spends on-duty time there, too, the lawsuit says.

Murphy earns a base salary of $140,000. Huber earns $133,000 before overtime. The chief earns $144,000.

The police department in the borough of less than 7,000 people has 22 officers.

Open racism

The lawsuit says Murphy often uses the N-word in front of borough and department officials.

During a training for police body cams, for example, he said “we just need them for the n-----s.”

During a 2015 meeting with the chief, several officers and Councilman and Police Commissioner Keith Turner, Murphy made a joke using the N-word.

Turner reportedly responded: "Murphy, we know you are a racist." But Murphy was never reprimanded, the lawsuit says.

In a written statement posted on the borough's website, Turner denies "any suggestion I acted in any way improperly or failed to discharge my duties and functions."

"The citizens of Mountainside know full well the quality and integrity of the people who have served them and the recklessly asserted characterizations in a lawsuit will not change that knowledge," Turner said.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount for damages under the hostile work environment and retaliation provisions of the Law Against Discrimination. The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Charles J. Sciarra and Matthew R. Curran of the Clifton firm Sciarra & Catrambone.



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