NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—As security in the city’s school system comes under increased scrutiny in the wake of a highly-publicized violent attack inside New Brunswick High School (NBHS), one official has been conspicuously absent from the discussion.
School district officials, and the public relations company they hired, have refused to disclose even the salary of Peter Managarella, who has served as the “Director of School Security” since September 2011.
The revelation that Mangarella was on vacation came during a volatile meeting of the city’s Board of Education, not far from the hallway where Oscar Aparicio, Jr. was brutally assualted five days earlier.
Board of Education (BOE) President Patricia Sadowski initially did not have an explanation of Mangarella’s whereabouts during the March 15 board meeting, which was dominated by a discussion of the violence in the city’s schools.
Since then officials have declined to say how long his vacation will last or where he is. They also declined to identify who, if anyone, assumes Mangarella’s immediate responsibilities when he leaves the area for an extended period of time.
Mangarella is one of four New Brunswick Police Department (NBPD) Directors appointed by seven-term Mayor James Cahill.
All four have joined an exclusive club of “double-dippers,” public officials who get paid a public salary and a public pension at the same time.
Meanwhile the state’s pension system is struggling, in part due to officials who “retire” early, then continue working while drawing lucrative pensions.
Both Mangarella and current Police Director Anthony Caputo collect six-figure annual pensions, while earning above-average public salaries and they rarely, if ever, attend public meetings.
According to records from 2012, Mangarella makes $90,000 per year in his job with the school system. He was hired to the job just two months after his “retirement” at the age of 47.
He began collecting an $116,o00 annual police pension just two months before the BOE hired him, and he did not have to stop collecting to return to public employment because his new job is in a separate pension system.
Much like Caputo, who came out of “retirement” to assume his old job as Police Director, does not attend City Council meetings, Mangarella is more often than not absent from Board of Education (BOE) meetings, despite being their top public safety official.
Mangarella does not appear to have participated in a Board of Education meeting since March 17, 2015, according to meeting minutes on the BOE’s website.
But Mangarella’s absence during this high-profile crisis of confidence in school security is reminiscent of Caputo’s absence in September 2011, in the wake of a suspicious police killing that claimed the life of an unarmed city resident. Caputo was rumored to be vacationing in France at the time.
Less than two weeks after the killing of Barry Deloatch, county prosecutors filed criminal charges against Richard Rowe, who ran the NBPD’s internal affairs division and mishandled 81 different complaints about his fellow officers, including the officer who fatally shot Deloatch.
Again, Caputo was nowhere to be found as Cahill hosted a solo press conference in response to the allegations.
Rowe later escaped prosecution by agreeing to participate in a pre-trial intervention program. But no one ever asked who was supposed to be supervising Rowe during his years of misconduct? The answer: then-Lt. Peter Mangarella.
Mangarella’s tenure as Police Director also ended under mysterious cicrumstances, after just 15 months in the department’s top job.
Mangarella started his new Director of School Security position just one week before the Deloatch killing, after having been allegedly forced out of the Police Director job following allegations he had used a racial slur on the job.
Those allegations did not come from just anyone: It was a city police officer, backed up by the head of the city’s police union, who wanted to see Caputo re-installed.
A high-ranking official in the department alleged that he was targeted by Mangarella and NBPD Internal Affairs even though accusations against him were false.
Former NBPD Lt. Steven Middleton later doubled down on his claims in a lawsuit which made the case that African-American officers routinely recieved unfair treatment from their superiors.
According to the lawsuit another officer warned Middleton that “Peter J. Mangarella was a racist and referred to African-Americans using a racial epithet.”
“Plaintiff was warned by this fellow officer to be careful because defendant Mangarella was a racist and was out to get him,” reads the suit.
An inside source told New Brunswick Today the plan had always been for Caputo to come out of “retirement” and lead the NBPD once again. But Mangarella was power-hungry and did not want to give up his post.
The racial slur allegations quickly became a way to force Mangarella to “retire” at even younger age than Caputo, whose “retirement” came at the age of 48.
“The racial slur made by defendant Mangarella was brought to the attention of defendant City of New Brunswick and defendant Mayor James Cahill by plaintiff’s union and defendants failed to take appropriate remedial action,” reads the complaint filed by Middleton’s lawyer Donald F. Burke.
Mangarella was quickly re-hired by the BOE during the “old days,” before the city voters decided to implement school board elections. Prior to the switch, City Hall and its politics were more intimately involved in the Board of Education.
For his part, Mayor Cahill declined to discuss the allegations of racism on Mangarella’s part, citing the litigation from Middleton.
“I think Pete put in his time and enjoyed the job,” said Mayor Cahill in an exclusive interview with New Brunswick Today. “Being Director can be difficult at times and very challenging, and I think Pete felt that he ran the course as long as he wanted to and called it a day.”
Cahill declined to say when he learned of the allegation of Mangarella using a racial slur.
“That’s a matter of litigation right now so I’m not going to comment on it because there is a pending case that deals exactly with that so I’ll reserve my testimony and comments for the court case.”
Meanwhile, the city’s school system, and its security guards in particlar, have come under fire from community leaders, parents, and students, all of whom were disturbed by the video of a brutal fight.
Mangarella was missing in action, even as Superintendent Aubrey Johnson announced that a security guard was “no longer with the district” after she allegedly watched without intervening as a 15-year-old freshman was brutally beaten in a hallway.
Johnson said the guard “called for backup but there was still a lapse in judgment.”
One woman criticized the guard seen escorting the attacker away of “practically congratulating” him. Still others said the school security guards are not proactive, and claimed they are often observed eating, talking, or gossipping.
Though Johnson praised the “leadership” and “wisdom” of NBHS Principal Jorge Diaz at the recent board meeting, no one mentioned Mangarella until New Brunswick Today brought him up.
But given the extent of the uproar over security guards and student safety, this reporter was surprised to see him absent from the well-attended meeting at NBHS on March 15.
After nearly being ejected by guards and police for silently recording video during the public BOE meeting, New Brunswick Today was allowed to speak during the volatile “Open Questions from the Public” item on the meeting agenda.
“Who is the Director of School Security?” asked this reporter.
“Peter Mangarella,” answered BOE President Patricia Sadowski.
‘And can you tell me where he is tonight?” asked this reporter.
“I don’t know,” said Sadowski at first.
After conferring with Johnson, Sadowski admitted to the crowd that Mangarella was “on vacation.”
But the following day, the district provided a statement from Superintendent Aubrey Johnson, declining to provide Mangarella’s salary information, or to say when Mangarella went on vacation, or when he will be returning.
“As a matter of formal policy, we do not comment on district personnel,” said Johnson. “I can say that there are never interruptions within our schools in terms of security coverage.”
However, Johnson commented on district personnel just one night earlier when he told the room full of students, residents, and district workers that the security guard had been let go, garnering applause from the crowd.
Johnson also declined to comment on the lawsuit that alleges Mangarella used a racial slur and targeted Middleton.
New Brunswick Today also asked Sadowski when the BOE first learned of the allegation that Mangarella had used a racial slur during his time as NBPD Director.
“Well, you just told us,” answered Sadowski, who is running for re-election on April 19. “So that’s the first I’m hearing of it.”
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.