Photos Add to Problems of Beset Hoboken Police

Photos Add to Problems of Beset Hoboken Police

November 17, 2007 NYTIMES

HOBOKEN, N.J., Nov. 16 — It has been a difficult few weeks for the Police Department in this trendy riverfront town. The beleaguered mayor, David Roberts, heaved a sigh as he summed it all up in a news conference this week: “We have been on a slippery slide of matters getting worse.”

At the top of that slope are five officers, all Hispanic, who filed a lawsuit last month accusing their superior, Lt. Angelo Andriani, of intimidation and harassment, which included charges of racism. The suit also charges that the lieutenant made the officers do maintenance work on his house in Verona while they were on duty.

But it took a batch of photographs that show Lieutenant Andriani and several other officers posing with scantily clad waitresses from Hooters to make people take notice.

“What occurred was some repugnant behavior,” Mayor Roberts said, “and conduct that is not becoming of a police officer of the City of Hoboken.”

What exactly did occur? In February 2006, according to officers involved, a bus full of Hoboken police officers traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras — a reward for their efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — made an unplanned stop in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

In photographs that have appeared on the Internet, on television and in newspapers, the officers can be seen fondling the waitresses, some of whom were handcuffed and some holding firearms, including an AR-15 rifle, a Remington shotgun and a Glock handgun, all belonging to the officers.

Appearing in many of the photos is a grinning Lieutenant Andriani, who was the supervising officer. He could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The cascading scandals have shaken this city of about 38,500, and the Hudson County prosecutor, Edward J. De Fazio, is looking into the various incidents, although he said in an interview on Friday that the events at Hooters did not appear to violate any law.

In addition, Mayor Roberts established the post of director of public safety this week to oversee the Police and Fire Departments, in essence usurping the authority of the longtime police chief, Carmen LaBruno.

On Friday, the new director, Bill Bergin, ordered the disbanding of the city’s SWAT team, which had been led by Lieutenant Andriani, and ordered the lieutenant’s transfer to a desk job at police headquarters, where he will have no supervisory duties.

Chief LaBruno himself has come under increasing scrutiny. In September 2006, according to a person close to the situation who declined to be identified out of fear that he could lose his job, Lieutenant Andriani instructed three on-duty officers to report to the chief’s house, about 50 miles away, in Clinton, to clean up debris from a basement renovation. The lieutenant supervised the work in the presence of Chief LaBruno, the person said. Another person aware of the events who also declined to be identified said that the three officers “were surprised and appalled.”

Chief LaBruno denied on Friday that he had instructed the officers to perform work at his house, and said that they were there of their own volition.

“I have a contractor,” he said. “I paid the contractor.”

As for the officers, he said: “They did not do the work. I have the checks to prove that.” He later added: “I gave those guys the excess material after my contractor did the work. I gave it away to the SWAT team so they could build whatever. Cabinets, they wanted,” he said as an example.

He said he did not remember when the officers came by or whether they were on duty.

Chief LaBruno declined to say when he had learned of the Hooters photos, citing the continuing investigation.

“No matter how you look at it, it’s embarrassing,” he said. “It’s embarrassing to the city. It’s embarrassing to the Police Department. It’s embarrassing to the mayor. I’m hurt, I’m hurt by it.”

According to the federal lawsuit filed last month in Newark by the five Hispanic officers, who are members of the city’s Auto Theft Task Force, Lieutenant Andriani threatened to put “a bullet in the head of anyone” who dared cross him, and created a work environment that was hostile to minority officers.

They said that once at dinner in a restaurant, he poked two holes in a napkin, placed it on his head like a Ku Klux Klan hood and uttered a racial epithet.

In addition, the officers charged that between 2004 and 2006, Lieutenant Andriani sporadically told officers to go to his house in Verona on “special assignment” to clean his boat, dig holes in the yard for a deck, clean his garage, rake the lawn and wash his lawn furniture. On one occasion, officers were ordered to peel 10 ears of corn, they said.

A woman who answered the phone at Lieutenant Andriani’s house but refused to identify herself rapidly ticked off explanations for the accusations. “No laws were broken; they were on their way back to Hoboken,” she said. As for the guns held by the waitresses, she said, “They’re not city-owned weapons.”

Examining the events of the past few weeks, Mr. Bergin, the new director of public safety, said, “We’ve got to be the laughingstock of the state.”

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