Two male police officers in a New Jersey town have come out with the same stunning accusation against a supervisor, alleging he sexually harassed and then assaulted them.
Veteran officers John Minacapelli and Joe Guiamano both work for the South River Police Department. They have something else in common they wish they didn’t: alleged sexual abuse at the hands of a superior officer.
Minacapelli and Guiamano claim that Lieutenant John McKenna was their abuser. Minacapelli said it started when he worked with the Lieutenant in the motorcycle unit in 2017.
“He would make comments about how good I looked in my motorcycle pants,” the officer said, adding that it escalated from there. “On one occasion he touched me and another he grabbed me … He grabbed me by my groin and I had to push him away.”
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Mincapelli told NBC New York that he’s experienced a “flood of emotions” since the alleged incidents, “from anger to shame.” He said he kept it all secret until McKenna, by chance, was moved to the detective bureau. In that position, he started supervising Guiamano — who has an almost identical story of alleged abuse.
“First it started with sexual harassment … He would imitate like he was masturbating in his pants. I would tell him you’re creeping me out,” said Guiamano.
In June 2020, Guiamano said he, too, was sexually assaulted by the lieutenant.
“He met me at the door. He grabbed my groin and squeezed it. I jumped back and said ‘What the f- are you doing?’” Guiamano alleges. “And, he laughed.”
McKenna is currently suspended with pay.
Guiamano said he went to Chief Mark Tinitigan, and was later stunned to learn the Middlesex County Prosecutor Office was only charging McKenna with harassment, a disorderly persons offense, for inappropriate touching.
“But in my complaint, it said it was for grabbing my testicles and causing me pain, which is what happened,” Guiamano said. Minacapelli faced different obstacles that would prevent charges altogether.
“They refused to charge on my behalf because they said the statute of limitations had passed. That fractured me,” he said. “I’m the victim of a sexual assault. And the statute of limitations had not passed on that.”
An attorney for the lieutenant told NBC New York that McKenna “maintains that any allegation of inappropriate touching, assault or harassment is a fiction.”
Both officers went out on paid medical leave shortly after word spread in their department about their abuse claims. Minacapelli said he had a “full-blown panic attack” one day at work, while Guiamano said he’s become ostracized by his colleagues.
“I feel I have been victim-shamed and been outcasted by my own department,” he said.
Guiamano says the criminal case kept being postponed, and this past March, the county prosecutor’s office told him in a text “we do not believe we can obtain a conviction for harassment … We will be dismissing that charge.”
On Tuesday, the two men filed civil lawsuits against the South River Police Department, naming the chief and the lieutenant. The chief referred NBC New York to the prosecutor’s office, which declined comment.
“My clients are going to take this to the end,” said the officers’ attorney, Juan Fernandez. “They want a trial. And they want to be heard so this doesn’t happen again.”
Minacapelli said he has a theory as to why their case hasn’t been treated the same as other cases.
“Men aren’t usually the victims. It’s female victims. And that’s why I believe we’ve been mistreated this whole time,” he said.
But both also said they wanted to get their stories out there in order to shatter stereotypes, including perceptions about men in blue.
“We’re always consoling the victim. We never believe we’re going to be victims, at least that’s how I feel,” Minacapelli said.
“I know the truth. I know what happened to me. I’m not going to sit back and hide,” said Guiamano. “I’m not going to be ashamed anymore.”
As long as the department’s current administration stays in place, the two officers said they’re not sure they can ever go back to work there, with just too many painful memories plaguing their minds and well-being.