How to Kill a Law Enforcement Career: The Case of Regina Tasca (William Norman Grigg)
Wednesday September 26th, 2012
What does it take for a police officer to get fired?
Regina Tasca, a 20-year veteran officer from Bogota, New Jersey, was terminated by the Borough Council on September 21. This decision came after a lengthy investigation into her purported misdeeds.
Prior to her termination, Officer Tasca had never generated a single citizen complaint or official reprimand. She was being considered for promotion before she got in trouble in April 2011.
What horrible deed led to Officer Tasca's dismissal?
Before answering that question, it’s worth reviewing a few recent cases of severe police misconduct that either went entirely unpunished, or resulted in sanctions short of termination.
Lawrenceville, Georgia Police Chief Randy Johnson refuses to fire Detective Tim Ashley, an abusive cop with a nasty habit of imprisoning innocent people – a habit that has already cost the local taxpayers a great deal in legal expenses. Among his victims is Ann Jaipersaud, who operates a Chevron station in Lawrenceville.
When Jaipersaud found herself dealing with an aggravated customer, she made the common – and by now inexcusable – mistake of calling the police for help. As is always the case, matters immediately got much worse after the police intervened in the dispute.
The customer, an American of African ancestry, apparently thought that the store owner (a woman of East Indian descent who was born in Guyana) didn’t want to sell him gas on account of his ethnic background. When told that the station had no gasoline, the customer — who verbally abused the store owner — refused to leave.
Jaipersaud’s call was answered by five officers, including Detective Ashley. After the customer claimed that Jaipersaud had struck him, she pointed out that the store’s security video would prove that she had done no such thing — but she didn’t know how to access it. Ashley demanded that she call her son, who was at school.
“He said I need to get him here now or else,” Jaipersaud recalled. “I asked him if he was threatening me…. And he said, `No, I’m arresting you.’” The officer later explained that he arrested Jaipersaud for being “disrespectful.” She spent ten hours in jail for what was later determined to be a wrongful arrest. A jury awarded Jaipersaud nearly $140,000 in damages.
Lawrenceville tax victims will almost certainly forced to indemnify Ashley’s crimes against 29-year-old Mississippi resident Carlos Fairley, who was abducted by police in a SWAT-style raid and then spent two months behind bars as a result of the detective’s culpable disregard for evidence.
Last November, Fairley — who was earning an honest living as a cook at a casino — tried to obtain a more lucrative position in the plunder-based sector by applying for a position with the Transportation Security Administration. A background check by the agency found that Fairley had outstanding arrest warrants in Lawrenceville for two counts of armed robbery.
At this point the alert reader will probably ask two questions:
“Wait — the TSA actually does background checks on applicants? And an accusation of armed robbery would be considered a disqualification, rather than an endorsement, for someone seeking to join the TSA’s corps of molesters and petty thieves?”
In any case, Fairley was told he had to clear up the warrants before being considered for employment with the TSA. When he called the Lawrenceville PD to inform them that he had not so much as visited Georgia for nine years, “Ashley `loudly and rudely’ said he knew Fairley committed the crime and hung up on him,” recounts the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The warrants were issued on the basis of a photo lineup that included a picture of Fairley when he was booked after being arrested as a teenager roughly a decade ago for “joyriding” in a stolen vehicle. Furthermore, the eyewitness testimony described the robber as having a face disfigured by several tattoos; Fairley’s face is unmarked. This difference should have been obvious even to a specimen like Tim Ashley.
A few weeks after he contacted Ashley, Fairley was seized in a guns-drawn police raid in Mississippi and extradited to Georgia, where he was imprisoned for three months.
Defense attorney Jason Robert Cornell, who represented Carlos, recalled to Pro Libertate that the young father “was stuck in jail for 2 months while I desperately tried to prove his innocence. I wasn't entitled to any portion of the investigative file, seeing as he hadn't yet been indicted. I had to defend the case blind.”
As an out-of-state defendant accused of a violent felony, Carlos wasn’t going to be granted bond even if is family could afford it, Carnell observes.
“Fortunately, after showing the Assistant District Attorney Carlos' banking records, showing that he had withdrawn $40 from a Biloxi ATM 45 minutes before he was supposed to be robbing someone in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and pictures of another guy in Gwinnett County Jail who looked very similar to Carlos – and who had been arrested for armed robbery -- the ADA suggested we have the victims identify him in court.”
Carnell rejected that offer, because in-court identification would have been “highly suggestive and prejudicial to Carlos.” Instead, the defense “agreed to a photo line-up. I provided the photo of Carlos and the other guy and Tim Ashley provided a few others. Neither of the two victims picked Carlos….The ADA then grudgingly told me he was dismissing the warrants without apology to me or Carlos.”
In addition to having two months of his life stolen from him, Carlos now bears the all but ineffaceable taint of the fraudulent arrest.
“Carlos lost his job at a Biloxi casino,” Carnell explains. “He lost his Dodge Charger he had just bought and his name is permanently tarred due to the way GCIC and NCIC keep criminal records. You will always be able to find warrants, for armed robbery, with his name on them -- not to mention his mug shot.”
Ashley, on the other hand, enjoys perfect job security despite numerous suspensions for misconduct – including a threatening phone call to his ex-wife’s boyfriend, and refusing to respond to a homicide call while on duty.
Not surprisingly, Fairley has filed a lawsuit against Ashley and the department that employs him. That lawsuit — and the needless abuse of Orlando Fairley — could have been avoided if Ashley had invested a minimal effort in trying to identify a legitimate suspect, rather than pursuing what appears to be a mission to punish Fairley for impudently asserting his innocence.
Regina Tasca has been responsible for supervising prisoners, but there is no evidence that she ever imprisoned anyone on false pretenses, or arrested a citizen for petty or vindictive reasons.
German Bosque, a Sergeant in the police department terrorizing Opa-Locka, Florida, has been the subject of 41 internal investigations, more than a dozen of them in cases involving battery or excessive force. He was found with counterfeit currency, crack pipes, and cocaine in his police vehicle. On several occasions, Bosque has been accused of domestic violence, stalking, and stealing a car. One of his preferred tactics is to “tune up” – that is, assault – youngsters if they display what he considers “disrespect” toward the police.
Bosque has been arrested three times. He has also been fired five times -- and immediately re-instated with the help of the local criminal’s lobby (more commonly known as the police officers’ union). He is safely ensconced in a $60,000-a-year job as a state-licensed thug.
Officer Regina Tasca was never accused of abusing anybody. As noted above, she has never received a single citizen complaint.
The City of Scottsdale, Arizona faces a lawsuit by the daughter of John Loxas II, who was fatally shot by Officer James Peters, a former SWAT operative previously involved in six fatal officer-involved shootings. Peters killed John Loxas II on February 14. At the time, the 50-year-old grandfather was holding a seven-month-old baby.
Although police “could see that the suspect had the baby in his arms” just before Peters fired the fatal shot, Loxas was unarmed, according to a Scripps wire service account. “After several calls for Loxas to exit the home, he opened the door with the baby in his left hand, and stood just inside the doorway…. Officers then saw Loxas reach down to his right, lowering the baby and exposing his head and upper body. Peters then responded to the movement with a single shot to Loxas’ head.”
Two years ago, Loxas was arrested following a report that Loxas had been seen “yelling and walking around with a handgun.” Although officers described him as “drunk” and “threatening his neighbors with a pistol,” he was not charged with aggravated assault — as Arizona statutes would dictate if that description were accurate — but for the trivial offense of “disorderly conduct.”
The Valentine’s Day incident began in similar fashion. The police were summoned by a report that Loxas had kicked a neighbor’s garbage can into the street while he was on a walk with his nine-month-old grandson. When police arrived they found him outside his home. Ordered to “step away” from the house, Loxas retreated inside. Without any evidence that Loxas intended to harm the child, the officers created a “crisis entry team” — that is, they escalated the conflict by imposing a military protocol that led to the summary execution of a man who wasn’t suspected of a violent crime.
Although Loxas was treated as if he were a heavily armed barricaded kidnapper, a search of his home turned up a total of two firearms — neither of which was within easy reach when he was killed by Officer Peters — and an object described as a “functional improvised explosive device” that was disposed of by a bomb squad and not inspected by any independent party.
The Scottsdale PD has claimed that the paramilitary tactics used in the confrontation were dictated by concerns for the infant’s safety. It’s not clear how shooting the grandfather while he was holding the infant was to the child’s benefit. Another possibility is that Loxas, by virtue of his impassioned political opinions, fit the profile of the dreaded “Sovereign Citizens” movement, which has been designated by the FBI as the most prominent domestic “terrorist” threat — and the most acute threat to “officer safety.”
While Loxas’s behavior and statements were considered troubling by some, it was Peters who clearly posed a danger to himself and others. During his 12-year career, Peters was involved in seven shootings, six of them fatal. His personnel record is replete with complaints about excessive force, including “dozens” of episodes involving Tasers. In 2005, he was disciplined for pointing a gun at his own head.
Peters left the force following the Loxas shooting – but he wasn’t fired. Instead, he received an “accidental disability retirement,” which permits him to collect a full pension. He will probably be able to find employment as a police officer in another jurisdiction. Regina Tasca, who fought the decision to terminate her for more than a year, most likely will lose at least some of her benefits – and, as we will see shortly, she will almost certainly be persona non grata throughout the “law enforcement community.”
In Houston, four police officers were recently suspended for engaging in a scheme to embezzle overtime pay by falsifying traffic tickets. Over the past four years, the officers had fraudulently collected almost one million dollars in overtime. One of them, Senior Officer Matthew Davis, soaked up $347,000 in 2008 alone. Davis had previously been suspended for improperly dismissing tickets at the request of a City Council member.
Davis received a 30-day unpaid suspension, as did fellow Officer Steven Running. Senior Officer Kenneth Bigger was handed a 20-day suspension. The sternest punishment – if the term could be applied here – was imposed on Sergeant Paul Terry, who was suspended for 45 days.
By any rational standard, embezzling a million dollars is a serious crime. Yet none of the officers involved in that felonious conspiracy faced criminal charges. None of them has been required to make restitution. None of them was fired.
Accordingly, it would be reasonable to expect that Regina Tasca’s firing offense would be more serious than defrauding Houston’s tax victims out of a million dollars. As it happens, her offense had nothing to do with corruption of any kind.
On September 22, a Houston Police Officer named Matthew Jacob Martin shot and killed 45-year-old Brian Claunch, a one-armed, one-legged man in a wheelchair who was “armed” with a pen. The victim was an emotionally disturbed man living in a group home for the mentally ill. The caretaker made the reliably fatal mistake of calling the police.
According to Houston PD Spokeswoman Jodi Silva, the shooting was justified because Officer Martin, who was supposedly “trapped” by Claunch, feared “for his partner’s safety and his own safety” despite the fact that they were both young, able-bodied, armed individuals confronting an invalid in a wheelchair who was armed with a writing utensil.
The killing of Brian Claunch, which was not Officer Martin’s first shooting, precipitated a huge public outcry, and the Police Chief has called for a Justice Department investigation. On previous performance it is all but certain that Martin will not be prosecuted, nor is it likely that he will suffer injury to his career.
It so happens that the incident that led to Regina Tasca’s firing offense also involved an emotionally disturbed and unarmed individual who was perceived as a threat to officer safety. Did she shoot and kill the subject, or use disproportionate force in subduing him?
No. As the officer in charge of the situation, Tasca followed the Bogota Police Department’s use-of-force policy to the letter by intervening to protect the victim from a criminal assault committed by an officer from another department.
As Officer Tasca summarized the matter in an interview with Pro Libertate last spring: “I didn’t fail to aid another officer; I acted to stop a beatdown.” Tasca interposed herself to stop Sgt. Joe Rella’s assault on 22-year-old Kyle Sharp, an emotionally troubled young man who had done nothing to justify police violence of any kind.
About two days after the episode, Tasca was labeled a “danger” to her fellow officers and suspended by the department. Following a year of disciplinary reviews, psychological evaluations, and a spurious legal process worthy of the Soviet Union, Tasca was fired.
Tasca was on patrol on April 29, 2011 when she got a call for medical assistance. Former Bogota Council Member Tara Sharp, concerned about the erratic behavior of her son Kyle, called the police to take him to the hospital for a psychological evaluation. As noted earlier, 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, whose mood changed abruptly when he saw the other officers arrive.
The official report on the matter, which was written by retired Judge Richard Donohue, claims that Kyle “was aggressive [and] started to walk away….” Only someone incurably inhospitable to both logic and honesty would describe walking away as “aggressive” behavior. Kyle also instructed the police not to step on his property, which was a lawful order the police were required to obey. Instead, 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.
According to Thibault, it was necessary to assault Kyle because he believed “danger is near for us if we let this kid go.”
No, really. That’s what Thibault said, under oath, during Tasca’s disciplinary hearing.
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. Tasca’s act was one of instinctive decency, genuine principle, and no small amount of courage. It was also the action dictated by her department’s use-of-force policy, the first page of which specifies that it is “the responsibility of law enforcement to take steps possible to prevent or stop the illegal or inappropriate use of force by other officers.”
In his report on the case, Judge Donohue acknowledged that Tasca acted in compliance with the use-of-force policy – but he dismissed that fact on the preposterous grounds that “no evidence was presented to establish that Officer Tasca even knew about the document.”
Only an uncommonly inventive sophist would pretend that the important question is whether Tasca was aware of the document stating the policy, rather than whether her actions were in accord with that policy.
Earlier in the same month, Tasca had prompted criticism for failing to rush to the aid of her partner, Officer Jay Fowler, during a brief confrontation with a tiny, drunken woman at a hospital. The woman, who was not a criminal suspect, was taken to the hospital for medical attention. She decided to leave, and when Fowler – who had already surrendered custody to the hospital – tried to stop her, the young woman “flailed” her arms, inflicting a small scratch on one of Fowler’s hands that tore open an old scab.
As a result of this “altercation” with a woman whom he outweighed by about 100 pounds, Fowler spent a week on paid medical leave, according to Donohue’s report.
“Nobody had said anything to me about the earlier case until after the incident with the Ridgefield officers,” Tasca pointed out to me. Her refusal to gang-tackle a tiny, confused woman in a hospital, coupled with her active intervention to stop a criminal assault on an unarmed, mentally unbalanced man who was not a criminal suspect, supposedly established a “pattern” of behavior that made Tasca a danger to her fellow officers.
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’s assessment reads like something compiled by a State-employed psychiatrist in the Brezhnev-era Soviet psihuska. Geller claims that Tasca suffers from something called a “mixed personality disorder,” displaying “a personality type characterized by a long-standing pattern of grandiose self-importance and exaggerated sense of talent and achievement.”
This purported dysfunction, once again, wasn’t noticed until after Tasca displayed the character and integrity to take the morally appropriate action – one dictated by the official guidelines of her department – in defiance of pressure from her peers and superiors to conform.
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.” Judge Donohue’s report mentions two instances in which she was criticized by for not extending what is euphemistically called “professional courtesy” by writing traffic citations against another officer.
Despite such frictions, Tasca’s job appeared secure – until the moment she behaved like a peace officer, rather than a law enforcer, and crossed the “Blue Line” by coming to the defense of Kyle Sharp.
Fidelity to the tribal interests of the punitive priesthood will cover a multitude of crimes, but taking the side of a Mundane being attacked by a member of the Brotherhood is an unpardonable offense.
William Norman Grigg [send him mail] publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.
Image Credit: S.P. Sullivan, NJ.com