Secaucus to withhold results of independent inquiry into notorious incident

SECAUCUS – After a 60-minute closed session meeting Tuesday night to discuss the fate of three ex-firefighters who resigned from the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department in 2008 under a cloud of controversy, the Town Council will meet with the men to discuss whether or not they can be reinstated to the department, according to Town Attorney Anthony D’Elia.
The council will also discuss with the men the results of a seven-month independent inquiry into a 2004 harassment incident that led the firefighters’ resignation.
The council yesterday met with Edward DePascale, an attorney who conducted the inquiry, and lawyers from the New Jersey Commission on Civil Rights.
Town officials recently received the results of DePascale’s inquiry, which are summarized in a confidential six-page report that includes several supporting documents.
Under the leadership of Mayor Michael Gonnelli, the Town Council commissioned the inquiry in May of last year to examine a notorious string of incidents involving members of the Volunteer Fire Department and a gay couple who lived on Schopmann Drive, next to the North End firehouse.
The couple said a handful of firefighters subjected them to violent threats and other forms of anti-gay harassment during the two years they lived on Schopmann.
The couple ultimately filed a civil lawsuit against Secaucus. The town lost the suit in 2008 and its insurers wound up paying millions of dollars to the plaintiffs.
Three firefighters who were implicated in the harassment later resigned from the Fire Department. However the men and their allies have lobbied for reinstatement ever since Gonnelli, a fellow firefighter, took over as mayor in Jan. 2010.
Secaucus hired DePascale, of the law firm of McElroy, Deutch, Mulvaney, to investigate whether the ex-firefighters – Charles F. Snyder, Charles T. Snyder, and Charles Mutschler – can be reinstated to the department. The fate of the former firefighters could hinge on what’s written in the report.
DePascale’s findings have not been made public.
Citing that the report includes sensitive personnel matters, D’Elia said after the caucus that the report will not be made public without the explicit consent of the three firefighters.
“I think it is an insult to the citizens of Secaucus that they are hiding a report that the citizens of Secaucus paid for with their tax money,” said Neil Mullin, one of the attorneys who represented the couple in their civil lawsuit, on Wednesday. “This is not just a personnel issue. This is a public safety issue.” – E. Assata Wright

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