N.J. cops’ Katrina missions land them in hot water
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Rushing to the aid of storm victims, about a dozen New Jersey police officers and their chief helped deliver a truckload of relief supplies more than 1,000 miles after Hurricane Katrina and later returned to help provide security for the New Orleans region. But some on the trip say the good-will visits at times resembled wild road trips that led to charges of lewd and racist behavior involving the SWAT team members and the chief.
As a result, the Hoboken SWAT team has been disbanded, and officials in the New Jersey city have launched a pair of investigations into the actions of the officers who helped deliver the supplies to Kenner, a city “adopted” by Hoboken.
A lawsuit filed by five police officers accuses a Hoboken lieutenant of racist behavior during the Louisiana trip, as well as in New Jersey. Photos later surfaced, including one of Hoboken Police Chief Carmen LaBruno with a topless woman, allegedly taken in New Orleans during Carnival, and Hoboken police officers posing with Hooters waitresses and allowing them to carry their guns.
“The city is taking this matter very seriously because of the nature of the allegations,” said a city spokesman, Bill Campbell. The Hudson County prosecutor’s office and the city’s public safety director are both investigating, Campbell said.
The entire SWAT team, about 12 officers, has been reassigned, Campbell said.
LaBruno could not be reached for comment.
A host of Hoboken officials, including some members of the city’s SWAT team, visited Kenner in September 2005, bringing a truckload of relief supplies. The Hoboken City Council had adopted Kenner after the storm, and Hoboken residents and the business community donated items including food, bleach, brooms, food, diapers and more than 1,500 rolls of paper towels.
The police officers were on the clock for the Kenner trip, Campbell said.
It was during that trip that Kenner leaders, including City Councilwoman Michele Branigan, took a group of Hoboken officials to Bull’s Corner restaurant in LaPlace, and at one point Hoboken Lt. Angelo Andriani allegedly poked holes in a white napkin and donned it as if he were a Ku Klux Klansman, according to a lawsuit filed last month by the five Hoboken officers, four of whom were on the SWAT team. The plaintiffs accuse Andriani of being a white supremacist who forced them to do manual labor at his home. All the plaintiffs are Hispanic.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys later released photos allegedly taken during the Hoboken police officers’ next visit to Louisiana to provide security during Mardi Gras, plaintiffs’ attorney Louis Zayas said. LaBruno was photographed posing with a woman flashing her breasts. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
On the way home from that trip, SWAT team members were photographed with waitresses at a Hooters restaurant in Alabama, and the waitresses are pictured holding the officers’ weapons.
After those photos were released, Hoboken Mayor David Roberts filled the empty position of public safety director, who oversees the Hoboken police and fire departments, Campbell said. Bill Bergin’s first action was to disband the SWAT team because of the officers’ behavior in Louisiana. The investigations into their actions are continuing, Campbell said.
“That’s the priority,” he said.
Kenner Councilwoman at-Large Jeannie Black said Tuesday she didn’t know about the Hoboken controversy, but said she did know that the Hoboken police officers who visited the city helped residents.
“I don’t condone their behavior,” she said. “But I understand they did a lot of good.”
Black was among four Kenner officials who traveled to Hoboken in November 2005 to thank city officials and accept more donations. She said that because of the awareness raised by the Hoboken police officers, New Jersey residents and schoolchildren held fundraisers to donate money and goods for Kenner even after the initial September trip.
“I just think they did a lot of good,” she said.
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