By KEN THORBOURNE
JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
Supporters of five Latino Hoboken police officers who have accused a commanding officer in court of being an "unabashed white supremacist" are calling for the state attorney general to intervene.
This call was issued even as one of the officers' attorneys traded accusations with the Hudson County prosecutor over a client's willingness to cooperate with the prosecutor's investigation.
In a bombshell lawsuit filed last month that seeks unspecified damages, the cops accuse their former SWAT team commander, Lt. Angelo Andriani, of using racial slurs, making a mock Ku Klux Klan hood out of a napkin, using the "n-word," and forcing them to do manual labor at his home.
At a rally held last week in front of City Hall, members of the New Jersey State National Latino Peace Officers Association, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, and the Hoboken chapter of the NAACP called for Attorney General Anne Milgram "to conduct an independent review of the Hoboken Police Department and the underlying causes that has allowed such bigotry to exist unchallenged."
Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio is already looking into the allegation the police officers were coerced to work on Andriani's house when they should have been doing police work.
The call for the Attorney General's involvement was not a slap at DeFazio, said Richard Rivera, public relations officer for NJLPOA. It is intended to eliminate "all appearance of impropriety" since Hoboken Police Chief Carmen LaBruno once headed up the Prosecutor's Office detective unit, Rivera said.
DeFazio responded that LaBruno's stint at the office "20 years ago" had no bearing on his investigation.
Attorney General spokesman David Wald said his office is "in contact" with the Prosecutor's Office and plans to stay in contact."The allegations brought forth in the complaint are extremely disturbing and the city has taken this matter very seriously," said Mayor David Roberts. "We are independently investigating this matter thoroughly."
DeFazio said last week his office invited the first of the five officers in for a interview, but to his surprise the officer - identified by his attorney, Luis Zayas, as Detective Mario Novo - refused to cooperate.
But according to Zayas, Nova was willing to give a statement but wanted his attorney present.
Zayas said his clients remained skeptical of DeFazio's office, given LaBruno's past connection to the office.
"Every person has a right to counsel," Zayas said. "Even though my clients were not the targets, but rather the victims of a criminal act, they have a right to have their attorney present to insure the investigation is a not a sham."
The protocol for possible grand jury cases is not to have attorneys present, DeFazio said
"The bottom line is people either want to cooperate and be witnesses or they don't," he added. "If they don't, we have to figure out where we go from there."
Andriani couldn't be reached to comment. The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Detectives George Fonseca, James Perez, Cesar Olavarria, and Sgt. Edwin Pantoja.