Two South River police officers file lawsuits against superior alleging sexual harassment

SOUTH RIVER–Two South River Police Department officers filed separate lawsuits against their commanding Lt. John McKenna, both alleging sexual assault, harassment and a hostile work environment.

Patrolman Joseph Guiamano and Sgt. Jonathan Minacapelli are suing McKenna, Chief of Police Mark Tinitigan, the Borough of South River, Mayor John Krenzel, the borough’s Public Safety Committee, the police department and members of the Borough Council.

Both lawsuits were filed by Guiamano and Minacapelli’s attorney Juan Fernandez on June 8.

Fernandez said both lawsuits have not been served yet, hence both cases are in the early stages.

“I think they’re trying to do two things [which is] to right a wrong basically and to ensure that this does not happen again. They really cherish and appreciate the fact that they are law enforcement officers. They believe in the department, they felt a strong need to come out and I find it very brave of them to come out and say what happened because they just don’t want it happening again,” Fernandez said in an interview.

Guiamano has been employed by the borough as a police officer for approximately 20 years. From approximately 2009 through April 2020, he was assigned to the
Detective Bureau, according to his lawsuit.

Minacapelli has been employed by the police department for approximately 15 years and promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2016. He is of Hispanic origin, according to his lawsuit.

McKenna is employed by South River as a police lieutenant and as commander of the Detective Bureau. He has been on leave since last year.

Guiamano’s lawsuit stated the following allegations: 

Guiamano was assigned to share office space with McKenna. McKenna was also assigned to the South River Police Department’s Internal Affairs Department (IAD). McKenna was the commanding officer of the IAD.

McKenna was Guiamano’s direct supervisor.

In or about the spring or summer of 2019, Guiamano confided in McKenna about a disturbing encounter he had had as a 12-year-old boy with an adult neighbor. Specifically, Guiamano told McKenna that the neighbor fondled himself through his pants pockets while he watched Guiamano mow his lawn.

Guiamano also confided in McKenna that his neighbor’s action traumatized him as a child. McKenna violated Guiamano’s confidence and shared his personal story with other members of the South River Police Department.

From that time on, each time McKenna saw Guiamano he would place his hands in his pockets and simulate the act of fondling himself. While McKenna engaged in this simulation, he would make groaning noises simulating an orgasm.

McKenna engaged in this manual and verbal simulation multiple times throughout the workday. McKenna’s manual and verbal simulations made Guiamano feel “creeped out” and “uncomfortable.”

Guiamano felt he could not report McKenna’s harassment to the Chief of Police Mark Tinitigan because McKenna was in charge of IAD. Guiamano also felt he could not report McKenna’s harassment to Tinitigan because he and McKenna were friends.

On multiple occasions, McKenna followed Guiamano into the restroom. On some of these occasions, McKenna would stand by the men’s room sink which is adjacent to the urinals. While Guiamano was using the restroom, he would have to shield his genitals from McKenna’s prying stare who would tell him, “Go ahead. Do what you have to do.”

Guiamano felt “ashamed” and “embarrassed.”

In or about the summer of 2019, Guiamano and McKenna were assigned to an off-duty job at a construction site. At that time, both men were sitting in a marked patrol car for some time because Guiamano suffers from knee pain, and he needed to periodically stretch his legs.

Guiamano exited the marked patrol car and sat on the bumper of his personal vehicle. McKenna also exited the marked patrol vehicle, followed Guiamano to the front of the vehicle and asked to sit on Guiamano’s lap. Guiamano denied the “request.”

McKenna then sat down on the bumper of Guiamano’s car and put his hand on Guiamano’s inner thigh. Guiamano immediately removed McKenna’s hand and reproached him. McKenna merely laughed off the incident and called it a “joke.”

In or about February 2020, when both men were in the Detective Bureau, McKenna grabbed Guiamano’s genitals with a cupped hand and squeezed them. The pain made Guiamano jump away from McKenna and shout an expletive.

McKenna’s actions not only caused Guiamano physical pain, but they also made him feel “embarrassed,” “creeped out,” and “uncomfortable.”

Upon information and belief, McKenna was placed on paid administrative leave.

Despite multiple incidents of unwanted sexual contact, and continuing abuse and sexual harassment of Guiamano by McKenna, the police department did not charge McKenna with sexual contact or official misconduct.

Instead, the police department only charged McKenna with disorderly conduct, which is a disorderly persons offense.

Minacapelli’s lawsuit stated the following allegations:

In or before spring of 2017, Minacapelli and McKenna staffed the South River Police Department’s Motorcycle Unit. As a result, both shared the police department’s motorcycle.

As Minacapelli drove the motorcycle toward McKenna, he approached Minacapelli. By the time that Minacapelli had brought the motorcycle to a complete stop, McKenna was standing next to Minacapelli. While Minacapelli was still on the motorcycle, McKenna reached down and rubbed Minacapelli’s crotch area. Minacapelli yelled at McKenna.

Minacapelli felt “ashamed,” “embarrassed” and “uncomfortable.”

On multiple occasions, Minacapell observed McKenna hanging out in the locker room. On some of these occasions, McKenna would stand by the men’s room sink which is adjacent to the urinals. While Minacapelli was in the bathroom, McKenna would peer over the partition to observe Minacapelli using the urinal. Minacapelli often had to shield his genitals from McKenna’s leering observation.

The police department motorcycle was kept in a locked storage container in the borough’s garage. In or about spring of 2018 and immediately prior to the incident, McKenna drove Minacapelli to the garage. When they arrived, Minacapelli unlocked the storage container. The motorcycle was tethered by cables which were secured onto hooks in the ground.

Minacapelli entered the container and McKenna followed close behind him. As he bent over to untether the motorcycle, McKenna told Minacapelli, “Your [butt] looks good in breeches,” the specialized uniform trousers worn by motorcycle police officers.

Minacapelli immediately stood up and turned around to find McKenna standing immediately behind him. McKenna had cornered Minacapelli in the storage container.

As Minacapelli turned toward him, McKenna grabbed and squeezed Minacapelli’s genitals. Minacapelli immediately tried to back away from McKenna and told his supervisor to stop.

McKenna told Minacapelli to “calm down.”

McKenna was not charged with unlawful sexual contact or official misconduct. Instead, Minacapelli was told that the police department could not bring any harassment charges against McKenna because the statute of limitations for a disorderly persons charge had expired.

Upon information and belief, the police department has exhibited a disparate disciplinary system for Hispanic police officers. Hispanic police officers are routinely given more
severe discipline that their non-Hispanic counterparts.

Based on the police department’s disparate treatment, Minacapelli did not report the incidents with McKenna until June 2020 when he could no longer bear his supervisor’s sexual harassment, abuse, retaliation and retribution.

Both of the lawsuits allege the following: 

Tinitigan and the rest of the police department were aware of McKenna’s abusive behavior towards his subordinate officers. Tinitigan excused McKenna’s improper behavior by stating, “I know how he is.”

Tinitigan failed to take any action to stop or address McKenna’s sexual harassment and abusive behavior.

In June 2020, both Guiamano and Minacapelli reported McKenna’s sexual harassment and abuse to Tinitigan. Both officers both provided Tinitigan with details of the abuse they suffered at the hands of McKenna.

McKenna remains a member and supervisor of the police department on paid administrative leave.

Both officers are seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages and lawyer fees’ in their lawsuits.

“[Due to] the litigation that the borough and I find myself in, I am not at liberty to comment regarding the filed lawsuits,” Mayor John Krenzel said.

Tinitigan could not be reached by press time.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.