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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lt. Andriani and the Hoboken SWAT Scandal

     It all started in November 2007 when dozens of photographs surfaced in the New Jersey media showing members of the Hoboken Police Department's SWAT team partying with Hooter waitresses in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Some of the shots were mildly racy, and others featured the Hooter girls handling various SWAT weapons, and clowning around with the officers. The photographs had been taken in the fall of 2006 when the officers, during one of several trips to Kenner, Louisiana, on Hurricane Katrina humanitarian missions, stopped over in Tuscaloosa. No one explained exactly how Louisiana's hurricane victims were served by a New Jersey SWAT team.

     One of the more disturbing photographs featured the commander of the SWAT squad, Lieutenant Angelo Andriani, wearing a napkin with eye holes cut out meant to look like a Ku Klux Klan hood. A month before the photographs became public, five Hispanic Hoboken police officers had filed a lawsuit against Andriani accusing him of creating a racist and hostile work environment. In November 2007, public safety director Bill Bergin permanently disbanded the SWAT team.

     The Jersey Journal, in February 2008, acquired a videotape showing Lieutenant Andriani's gun being passed around at a party in New Orleans hosted by a Louisiana developer and his wife. When the weapon came back around to Andriani, he slipped the magazine out of the gun and distributed the bullets to partygoers. Chief of Police Carmen La Bruno can be seen laughing as the Lieutenant's gun is being passed around.

     The New York Times, in March 2008, ran a story based on an internal police report leaked to the media. According to Hoboken Police Department's internal affairs investigators, SWAT team members had each been contributing $20 a month to an equipment and gear fund controlled by Lieutenant Andriani, and that Andriani had diverted and misused the money. The report also included allegations that Andriani had forced off-duty police officers to work at his home in Verona, New Jersey. Regarding the Hoboken paramilitary unit, the author of the internal affairs report had written that the "SWAT team had provided virtually no meaningful service to the city." A few days after the article appeared, the public safety director placed Lieutenant Andriani on paid administrative leave. Nine other members of the former SWAT squad, while kept on regular duty, received a variety of "behavior unbecoming" citations.

     Hoboken police chief Carmen La Bruno, after 37 years on the job, retired on July 1, 2008 with a $525,000 cash payout, and a $148,000 pension for life. (This does not include benefits.) A year later, the public safety director placed Andriani on an $11,000 per month, two-year suspension, essentially a paid vacation mandated by his employment contract. The lieutenant, insisting that he had done nothing wrong, accused his accusers of being politically motivated.

     In January 2010, Angelo Andriani was back in the news after reportedly creating a disturbance at Tampa International Airport by allegedly flashing his badge and berating airline employees for allowing a flight crew to move ahead of him in a screening line.

     In May 2011, the city of Hoboken settled the lawsuit against Andriani by the five Hispanic police officers. The $2 million in damages would be split evenly among the defendants.

     Before the $2 million dollar settlement, and after Andriani's two-year suspension, he was fired. He challenged the termination, and in October 2010, an administrative law judge ruled that Andriani should have been suspended without pay for three months instead of fired. In March 2012, the civil service commission amended the ruling to a six-month suspension.

     Firing a police officer is like firing a public school teacher, it can take a lot of time, and cost a bundle. And quite often, after all that time and money, the employee ends up back on the job.


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