The letter and the lawsuit
On Friday Mar. 2, Peck won a lawsuit against the city in State Superior Court that led to the dismissal of charges, which had previously been filed against him by the Hoboken Police Department (HPD).
The disciplinary charges were for "conduct unbecoming of a public employee," and were issued in regards to an anonymous letter that was allegedly written by Peck last August to the state's Department of Personnel (DOP).
In the letter, Peck challenged a request made by the police department last July to allow sergeants with less than one year at their current rank to be eligible for the lieutenants' test, which occurs approximately once every four years and is generally reserved for those who have more than 12 months as a sergeant.
The letter further accused Hoboken's Police Chief Dr. Carmen LaBruno of using coercion and threats to influence the sergeants who had originally signed the request form, alleging that the change in policy was done to benefit the chief's son, Sgt. Christopher LaBruno, who was one of the 14 sergeants, which included Peck, who would have been eligible for the test as a result of the decision. Due to the letter, the DOP, which had initially approved the request on Aug. 15, rescinded their decision on Aug. 22, refusing to allow the newly promoted sergeants to take the test.
According to the chief, no coercion ever took place and the sergeants who signed the original request form did so willingly and on their own accord. In an attempt to dispute the allegations made in the letter, the department had the 15 sergeants sign affidavits stating that the alleged coercion did not occur. The DOP, however, refused the city's appeal and prevented the 15 newly promoted sergeants the test.
One of those who signed the affidavit was Peck, who was later brought up on disciplinary action after an investigation found him to allegedly be the author of the anonymous letter. The charges against Peck included his endorsement of an affidavit which he did not support, and if found guilty could have amounted to six days of unpaid suspension.
The charges however, were dismissed by Superior Court Judge Shirley Tolentino earlier this month who, according to Peck's attorney, believed the charges against Peck to be retaliatory in nature on the part of the police chief.
The city is currently planning to appeal the ruling according to Corporation Counsel Joseph Sherman, who refused to comment further on the matter.
"The charges were nothing more than retaliation against Sgt. Peck and the judge saw it as such and properly dismissed (them)," said Catherine Elston who is representing Peck in the case. "The case is far from over and we are seeking punitive damages against the city of Hoboken," added Elston, referring to what she believed was a violation of the first amendment and whistle blower laws.
Sherman refused to comment as to the city's response to potential further lawsuits involving Peck and the police chief.
In addition, Peck was voted out of the local police union according to sources within the department. The reason for the expulsion could not be confirmed by union officials who refused to comment directly on the matter, though it is believed to be connected with Peck's alleged misconduct surrounding the letter.
Sgt. Kenneth Ferrante, president of the Hoboken Police Superior Officers Association (P.S.O.A.), which represents all police officers in the city above the rank of sergeant, said. "The matter is currently open to appeal and due to New Jersey State by-laws, we are prohibited from disclosing private union matters." The last time a police officer was removed from the union was in the early nineties.
According to another police source, only four of the 50 plus members in the P.S.O.A. voted in favor of keeping Peck in the union with the remainder endorsing his removal.
Peck plans to fight the union's decision according to Elston, who said the decision will "certainly be overturned."
Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sidebar Another member of the Hoboken Police Department, Sgt. Mark Competello, is also suing the city for what he claims to be misconduct on the part of city officials involving the rental of the current Hoboken Mounted Police Horse Barn at 611-619 Newark St.
According to the complaint, which was sent to the office of the New Jersey Attorney General on Feb. 26, Mayor David Roberts, Corporation Counsel Joseph Sherman and Assistant City Attorney Vincent Lapaglia are named as taking part in a business transaction in which the city allegedly paid $3,000 per month for a plot of land to temporarily house the mounted unit's horses, after they had been evicted from their prior location at the site of the former Maxwell Coffee Factory.
The complaint alleges that the city paid Lapaglia, who is allegedly an owner of the property, in the contract mentioned above, there by amounting to a conflict of interest and an ethics violation. Sherman refused to comment on the matter at this time.