SOUTH RIVER — Two male police officers are separately suing a commanding lieutenant, accusing him of sexual assault and continued harassment.

South River Police Lt. John McKenna has been on paid administrative leave for roughly a year, since Officer Joseph Guiamano and Sgt. Jonathan Minacapelli separately accused him of grabbing and squeezing their genitals among other unwanted physical contact.

Guiamano and Minacapelli have said that McKenna, who also is commander of the Detective Bureau, for years made repeated sexual comments that left them feeling uncomfortable and “creeped out,” according to Guiamano’s lawsuit.

Both men also said separately that on numerous occasions, McKenna would stand by the men’s room sink which is next to the urinals, and watch as they relieved themselves, causing each of them to shield their genitals from McKenna’s “leering.”

First civil lawsuit

Minacapelli, who is Hispanic, has been employed by the Police Department for about 15 years, as a Sergeant since 2016. In his own lawsuit filed in Middlesex County Superior Court on Tuesday, he also accused the department of treating complaints from non-Hispanic officers differently.

Inappropriate questions and comments from McKenna about penis size began in 2012 to Minacapelli, according to his civil complaint, which also said McKenna would simulate sexual acts with his hands — and on several occasions, while eating a banana.

Minacapelli and McKenna split duties as the South River Police Department’s Motorcycle Unit, and shared use of the department’s single motorcycle.

In spring 2017, Minacapelli said he brought the motorcycle to a stop near where McKenna was standing, at which point McKenna reached down and rubbed his “crotch area.” When Minacapelli yelled, McKenna said he was “just kidding.”

Roughly a year later, McKenna drove Minacapelli to the South River Borough garage, where the motorcycle was kept. The lawsuit said that McKenna cornered Minacapelli in the storage container where the vehicle was and said “Your ass looks good in breeches.”

The suit said that McKenna then grabbed and squeezed Minacapelli’s genitals, to which he tried to back away and told his supervisor to stop. McKenna told him to “calm down.”

Each incident and vulgar encounter with McKenna left Minacapelli feeling “ashamed,” “embarrassed,” “violated” and “uncomfortable”.

A second accuser

Officer Guiamano has been with the South River police force for about 20 years.

He filed his own lawsuit in Middlesex County Superior Court on Tuesday with attorney Juan Hernandez, who is also representing Minacapelli.

Around late spring 2019, Guiamano said he 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 he was traumatized after the neighbor fondled himself through his pants pockets, while he watched Guiamano mow his lawn.

Not only did McKenna share the personal story with other members of the South River Police Department, but from that point on, each time McKenna saw Guiamano he would put his hands in his pockets and simulate masturbation, according to the civil complaint.

The harassment would happen multiple times every work day, Guiamano, and also began a string of inappropriate sexual behavior and comments.

Months later, Guiamano and McKenna were both assigned to an off-duty job at a construction site. When Guiamano got out of the marked patrol car and sat on the bumper of his personal vehicle, McKenna followed and asked to sit on Guiamano’s lap, the complaint said.

When rebuffed, McKenna sat next to him and put his hand on Guiamano’s inner thigh, leaving Guiamano to bat away McKenna’s hand, who laughed off the incident as a “joke.”

In December 2019 or January 2020, McKenna was driving erratically with Guiamano as a passenger in a marked patrol car. When Guiamano brought up his careless driving, McKenna reach over and put his hand on Guiamano’s thigh and then groin and said, “Don’t worry Detective. I’ll hold you,” and forcing Guiamano to remove McKenna’s hand.

Just a month later, when both men were in the Detective Bureau, McKenna grabbed and squeezed Guiamano’s genitals, prompting Guiamano to jump away and shout a profanity.

Abuse is reported

Guiamano said in his complaint that he was reluctant to report the harassment because McKenna was in charge of the Internal Affairs Department and was also friends with Police Chief Mark Tinitigan, who is named as a defendant in both lawsuits.

Tinitigan excused McKenna’s improper behavior by stating, “I know how he is,” according to the suit.

Months after he said McKenna had grabbed his genitals, Guiamano reported the sexual harassment and abuse to Tinitigan in June 2020.

In the same month, Minacapelli also reported McKenna’s sexual harassment and abuse to the police chief.

McKenna was placed on paid administrative leave, though the department did not charge him with sexual contact or official misconduct.

Instead, McKenna faced disorderly conduct, a disorderly persons offense, for the accused action against Guiamano.

Minacapelli was told that the department could not bring any harassment charges against McKenna based on his accusations, as the statute of limitations for a disorderly persons charge had expired.

Both officers are seeking unspecified damages and lawyers’ fees in their lawsuits.

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