Tasca is in the middle of disciplinary hearings that may result in her termination from the Bogota, New Jersey Police Department. She stands accused of "bizarre and outlandish" behavior in two incidents a year ago during which she revealed herself to be "A danger to other police officers."
Her first supposed offense – which wasn't mentioned until after the second – was a failure to assist another officer who was "attacked" by a drunken woman who was roughly half his weight and barely five feet tall. Her second was was to intervene when a police officer from another jurisdiction viciously assaulted an emotionally troubled young man who was not suspected of a crime.
"I consider myself a peace officer," Tasca told Pro Libertate. "My thing is to help make sure that people are safe, and that they don’t have a reason to fear the police – that we treat them like human beings. The incident that started all of this was one in which I intervened to prevent excessive force against a kid who was the subject of a medical call, not a criminal suspect."
On April 29, 2011, Tasca was on patrol when she got a call for medical assistance. Former Bogota Council Member Tara Sharp, concerned about the erratic behavior of her 22-year-old son Kyle, called the police to take him to the hospital for a psychological evaluation. Requesting police intervention, particularly in cases of this kind, is never a good idea. Sharp was exceptionally fortunate that Officer Tasca was the first to respond: She has years of experience as an EMT and had just completed specialized training on situations involving psychologically disturbed people.
Once on the scene, Tasca acted quickly to calm down the distraught young man.
"When the call came, I heard that a couple of officers from Ridgefield Park were coming to provide backup, which I thought was OK, Tasca related to Pro Libertate. "Kyle had been shouting and swearing when I got there, but I got him calmed down." The young man’s mood changed abruptly when he saw the other officers arrive.
"He noticed them and asked me, `Why is there another police officer here from another town?’ Then he said that he was leaving, and he moved maybe two or three steps when one of the Ridgefield officers jumped him."
Sgt. Chris Thibault tackled Kyle, wrapped him in a bear hug, and attempted to handcuff him. Within an instant, Sgt. Joe Rella piled on and began to slug Kyle in the head while his horrified mother screamed at the officers to stop.
Tasca instinctively did what any legitimate peace officer would do: She intervened to protect the victim, pulling Rella off the helpless and battered young man. Eventually the Ridgefield officers handcuffed Kyle – then turned their fury on Tasca.
"One of them yelled at me, `We can’t have this!’" she recalled. "I said, we `can’t have’ what? There was no reason to take that kid to the ground and start slugging him. This was a medical assistance call, and the mother was sitting their screaming at them to stop beating on their son. I didn’t fail to aid another officer; I acted to stop a beatdown."
Two days later, Tasca was summoned by her captain, who informed her that she was being suspended pending a disciplinary hearing. She learned that in addition to "using force" to stop Rella’s assault on Kyle Sharp, Tasca was accused of failing to assist Bogota Officer Jerome Fowler when he was "assaulted" by an intoxicated woman on April 3.
"Nobody had said anything to me about the earlier case until after the incident with the Ridgefield officers," Tasca pointed out to me.
Tasca was on night patrol when she came across "this young girl walking in the middle of the street, crying, with one broken heel. She was very drunk, and the officer who had picked her up had just dropped her off at the apartment of somebody who was described as a `male friend’ – but practically nothing was known about this guy. He just left her there without finding out anything about the situation at that apartment; she could have been assaulted, raped, or killed. Whoever it was, he just threw her back out on the street – which actually might have been the best outcome. So she was crying hysterically and very distraught when I found her. I radioed HQ that I would be assisting her, and the officer who had picked her up arrived, and we went to the hospital with me carrying her in the back seat of my police car."
The young woman was taken to the Emergency Room at Holy Name Medical Center.
"Once we got there, our job was done," Tasca continues. "I stuck around for a little while to make sure everything was OK. There were about a half-dozen hospital security personnel on the scene, as well as about four or five EMTs and nurses there. The girl walked over to the nurse’s station, then decided that she didn’t want to go to the hospital. When Jay [Officer Fowler] reached for her, she started flailing her arms, and hit his hand, opening up an old cut he had on one of his knuckles."
This was the "assault" that figures so prominently in the charges against Tasca. The officers who ganged up on Kyle Sharp have not been charged or subjected to administrative discipline – but Tasca’s refusal to help ground and pound a tiny, intoxicated woman who had made incidental contact with a fellow officer is being treated as a career-imperiling delinquency.
"Apparently, Jay believed I should have pushed all these people aside and help him subdue a tiny girl – she was about five foot one, and very skinny – who had given him a scratch," Tasca pointed out.
After being put on suspension, Tasca was subjected to a psychological evaluation by Dr. Matthew Geller, a psychiatrist who does contact work for New Jersey law enforcement agencies. Geller provided the diagnosis he had been paid for, ruling that Tasca was unfit for duty. At the same time, the Bogota PD’s internal affairs officer produced a report concluding that Tasca’s refusal to assist Officer Fowler in the April 3 incident demonstrated her unfitness.
The internal affairs review wasn’t exactly a model of investigative rigor, Tasca observes: "There were nearly a dozen other people who witnessed the incident – and the only one he interviewed was a 14-year-old Ambulance Corps volunteer who happened to be his niece!"
Tasca, an openly gay female police officer, believes that at least some of the problems she’s experienced are the product of a cultural clash with what she describes as "the Old Boys Club." More importantly, however, she has been targeted for the unforgiveable offense of "crossing the Blue Line" by taking the side of a Mundane being attacked by a member of the Brotherhood.
"I’ve been an officer here in Bogata for eleven years, and spent seven or eight years as a Class 2 Special Officer in Fairview, which is where I grew up," Tasca told Pro Libertate. "Until now, I’ve never had problems with anybody on the force, or anybody in the community. Oh, sure, when you work near people for ten or twelve hours every day, you’ll have disagreements and maybe say some things you shouldn’t, but that’s typical of just about any relationship, professional or otherwise. But never in my career had I been accused of unfitness for duty until after that incident a year ago.
As a veteran with nearly twenty years in law enforcement, Tasca has noticed a dramatic change in the institutional culture of law enforcement in recent years.
"I think what we’re seeing is a lot of kids who are given power and immediately begin to abuse it," Tasca observes. "Some of these guys are as young as 18 years old. You give them a uniform, and it goes right to their head. And even many of those that don’t do abusive things miss the point, which is that we’re supposed to be peace officers. They get a badge and a gun and they think they’re gods, or at least that they’re entitled to treat people like dirt. I see them as people, and insist on treating them like I’d want to be treated."
In contemporary law enforcement, commitment to the Golden Rule is a firing offense. Just ask Ramon Perez, whose experience is strikingly similar to that of Regina Tasca.
A few days after that incident, Perez was given a punitive transfer to the night shift. Two months later, Perez was told to report to APD psychologist Carol Logan to undergo what he was told would be a "communication" exercise. In fact, it was a disguised "fit-for-duty review" intended to ratify the pre-ordained decision to fire him.
Logan’s four page report focused entirely on Perez's moral and religious beliefs. Perez is a self-described non-denominational fundamentalist Christian, an ordained minister who home-schools his children. He is also firmly convinced that protection of civil liberties is the paramount duty of a peace officer – a duty he regarded, literally, as a sacred trust.
According to Logan, the depth of his commitment to his beliefs – beginning with that perennially unpopular tenet called the Golden Rule – produces an "impairment" of his ability to absorb new facts, to communicate with his superiors, and to deal with "feedback."
As was the case with Regina Tasca, Ramon Perez’s detractors dredged up a second incident of "misconduct" involving a refusal to use unnecessary force.
By twice displaying a peace officer’s preference for de-escalation, Perez had established himself as a repeat offender. He was purged from the APD, a department that has since done much to distinguish itself – in the face of fierce and plentiful competition – as one of the most abusive in the country.
A vast geographic and cultural gulf separates Ramon Perez, a Fundamentalist Evangelical from Texas, and Regina Tasca, an openly gay Roman Catholic from New Jersey. They have at least one critically important thing in common: Both of them intervened in defense of helpless citizens facing criminal violence from fellow cops, and learned that for people who have chosen a career in law enforcement, behaving like a peace officer is a firing offense.
__ William Norman Grigg [send him mail] publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.
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