The photos show members of the Hoboken SWAT Team - in uniform - partying with women from the restaurant/bar "Hooters," while on their way home from their trip to Louisiana to aid in the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina.
Although the officers were off-duty at the time of the party or parties, the police were seen in uniform partying and apparently drinking with Hooters girls. Photos show them apparently pouring Jell-o shots down the women's throats and allowing the women to handle their weapons.
"This is a very repugnant and disturbing display seen in these photographs," said Mayor David Roberts last week. "It's an embarrassment that will never happen again."
Roberts, who also visited Louisiana as part of the relief effort but was not involved in the party, said, "I should point out that this is an anomaly with the Hoboken Police Department that is not representative of the intelligent and dedicated men and women who serve."
In response to the latest series of events, the mayor has appointed Bill Bergin, a retired Hoboken deputy fire chief, to the office of Director of Public Safety. The $27,000 position places Bergin in charge of overseeing the police and fire departments (see briefs, inside).
As part of the fall-out caused by the incident, Hoboken's Police Chief Dr. Carmen LaBruno has dissolved the Hoboken SWAT Team, for now.
"I'm disappointed by their behavior. I think it was poor judgment, and in retrospect, I'm sure the officers themselves would agree," said LaBruno. "I've tried very hard to instill a professionalism in this department through their training over the years. It's an embarrassment."
According to LaBruno, the costs to the city for the trip were negligible, which mainly included only the payment for gas and salary for the officers, though no over-time was paid out. Also, he said, the officers paid many of the expenses associated with the trip out of their own pockets. The chief said that the SWAT team always buys its own uniforms and firearms. As a result, he said, the weapons pictured belonged to the officers themselves.
In addition to the officers in the photographs, Hoboken's Office of Emergency Management Deputy Coordinator Joel Mestre was also present at the party and was in photos, having taken the trip with the SWAT team as a medic assigned to the detail. When asked for a reaction to the behavior of some of the officers in the pictures, Mestre declined to comment.
Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo also traveled down to Louisiana as part of the relief effort. In a phone interview Friday morning, Russo acknowledged going out to several restaurants/bars with the officers, but said he never witnessed inappropriate behavior.
"I can't say what they did or didn't do while they were off-duty, but the behavior contained in these pictures won't be tolerated," he said. "They made the city of Hoboken look foolish."
One photo has stirred some discussion because it shows an officer drinking with a woman, and in the background, not paying attention, is a man who looks very much like Russo. Russo responded that he hadn't seen the photo, but it might have been from any other time he was at a bar during one of the trips to Louisiana to help out. He said he has been to the town several times to help out, and did attend bars where the SWAT officers were.
"I most certainly was not at this [Hooter's] party," he said.
He added, "Yes I went out with [members of the Hoboken SWAT Team], but I never witnessed any officers performing inappropriately."
He also said that the city did "a lot of good" in Louisiana, and that should not be overshadowed by the actions of a few officers.
The investigation into this matter and the lawsuit are currently being headed by the city's labor counsel, David Corrigan, rather than the police department's Internal Affairs Unit, which is the normal procedure according to Corporation Counsel Steven Kleinman.
Kleinman added that the decision was made because of the circumstances, but refused to comment further on the issue.
According to LaBruno, he and the mayor will be guided by the findings of the investigation, when considering how they plan to proceed with potential departmental punishments to the officers involved.
Lt. Angelo Andriani, who is at the center of the lawsuit involving alleged acts of racism and is shown in several of the pictures posing and drinking with the Hooters girls, could not be reached for comment last week.
Similarly, the five Latino officers who are the plaintiffs in the case were also unavailable for comment. The plaintiff's attorney, Louis Zayas, did not return phone calls.
Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.