Suspended parking officers cry harassment. Employees make allegations against the city.

Suspended parking officers cry harassment
Employees make allegations against the city
Hoboken Reporter  

After receiving suspensions for ticketing police officers, two of Hoboken's Parking Enforcement officers claim they are being harassed by police and mistreated by the city.

Mario Rodriguez, who returned to the Hoboken Parking Utility on June 9 after a seven-week suspension for allegedly improperly booting a police officer's car, received two separate summonses recently for having tinted windows on his car.

The first occurred on Friday June 23, when Port Authority police stopped Rodriguez on Park Avenue in Weehawken for the offense. The next week at work, Rodriguez claimed to have been approached by a coworker whose sister overheard a conversation between Hoboken and Port Authority police officers at the Weehawken Courthouse a few days after the incident.

The coworker could not be reached for comment last week.

The coworker told Rodriguez that his sister allegedly heard a Hoboken police officer say to the Port Authority officer about Rodriguez, "This guy's harassing cops, giving them tickets. Look out for his car."

According to the coworker, that officer allegedly described Rodriguez's car and gave the other officer its license plate number, according to Rodriguez.

On Wednesday, July 12, Rodriguez was given another summons for having tinted windows, this time by the Hoboken Police. According to Rodriguez, undercover police officers passed his vehicle and made eye contact with him as they spoke into their radio. Moments later, a police officer on foot patrol was at his car placing a ticket upon it.

According to Rodriguez, he overheard the officer speaking into her radio, saying "Yeah, yeah. I got him right here."

Although having tinted car windows is a violation, Rodriguez says that many of the cars in his area of Hoboken have tinted glass and do not receive tickets.

"Right now I'm living a nightmare. I'm scared. I don't know what's coming next," said the 21-year-old Rodriguez, who has since given his car over to his parents to use. "I know if [Hoboken police] see me behind the wheel, I'm going to get another ticket."

Dr. Carmen LaBruno, the Hoboken police chief, said that he was aware of Rodriguez's complaint and would have Internal Affairs look into the matter. However, LaBruno said Rodriguez's car was in violation and police were enforcing the law.

Tickets and preferential treatment

The cause of the alleged harassment stems back to April 21 of this year, when Rodriguez booted a car because he didn't notice the residential sticker on the windsield. But the sticker was in the wrong part of the windshield.

At the end of his shift, Rodriguez received a phone call from his supervisor, Bob Orsini, who informed him that he was suspended indefinitely without pay for conduct unbecoming of a public employee. Rodriguez said that he was accused of improperly giving the ticket due to an alleged dispute between himself and the police officer who owned the vehicle.

That dispute began in the summer of 2004 when the same officer, policeman James Perez, received a ticket from Rodriguez for illegally parking in front of a school. Several months later, Rodriguez received a ticket from Police Officer Perez for running a stop sign, which Rodriguez claims never happened. After a year in court, the charges of running a stop sign were dismissed.

According to Rodriguez, the bigger issue is not the alleged dispute, but the preferential treatment given to cars that belong to police officers.

"If you ticket a car that belongs to a cop, you're going to catch some heat for it," said Rodriguez. Hoboken's Parking Utility denies such a practice exists. In a written statement issued after Rodriguez's suspension, John Corea, the department head, wrote, "This administration has encouraged appropriate enforcement of all parking regulations. However, it is a great concern if any city employee misuses their authority regarding parking or enforcement."

A similar scenario

Rodirguez is not the only Parking Utility enforcement officer who believes he has been improperly disciplined. On May 20 of 2005, former Parking Enforcement Officer Fidel Wilches was on his way to work a midnight shift when he noticed a Jeep parked next to a fire hydrant. A few hours later, while on the job, Wilches claimed to have noticed that the same Jeep was still illegally parked. This time Wilches ticketed the Jeep and wrote out the necessary paperwork to have it towed.

At 1 a.m. Wilches said he received a phone call from the towing company requesting information on releasing the car, something that Wilches is not under jurisdiction to do. Ten minutes later, Wilches claimed to have received a phone call from Corea telling him to come to police headquarters immediately.

As Wilches made his way downtown on his bicycle, he said police in a squad car joined him. They allegedly followed him with flashing lights and told him over the loudspeaker to hurry to the station.

When he arrived, he saw three uniformed police officers and former Hoboken Police Captain Karen Dimonde, who was in civilian attire and noticeably agitated, according to Wilches.

Wilches alleges that Dimonde screamed at him, "I want him fired! I just want to choke the s** of a b****!" Although Wilches was not able to attain the identity of the owner of the Jeep he ticketed, he assumed by Dimonde's reaction that it was hers.

In an unrelated matter, on July 1, after 21 years on the force, Dimonde resigned from her position after pleading guilty to 220 administrative charges, including neglect of duty, failure to supervise subordinates, insubordination, and conduct unbecoming of a public employee. (See briefs.) After allegedly being threatened by Dimonde, Wilches said that Corea told him to hand over his equipment and leave. Later that night Wilches checked himself into St. Mary Hospital for a panic attack. After meeting with a hospital psychologist, he was released into his sister's custody.

The following week, Wilches received a certified letter from the Parking Utility informing him that he was suspended indefinitely without pay. After two separate court dates, Wilches remains suspended without pay, more than a year after the incident occurred.

The city's corporation counsel, Joseph Sherman, was contacted about the matter but he refused to comment because the case is still ongoing. However, Sherman did say that he would look into it.

Currently, Wilches works as a security guard in Union City. He hopes to get his job back with the Hoboken Parking Utility.

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