BOGOTA — Borough Police Officer Regina Tasca was fired Thursday night after efforts to reach a settlement before an Oct. 18 deadline failed.
Neither Tasca, an 11-year police veteran suspended with pay since May 2011, nor her attorneys were present when the council adopted a resolution to fire her effective Oct. 18.
“She is fired as of tonight,” Mayor Patrick McHale said after the meeting.
The resolution does not end the legal wrangling that commenced last June after the police department filed about 20 administrative and departmental charges against Tasca in connection with two incidents that occurred in April 2011 and a psychological exam that found her to be unfit for duty.
The charges against Tasca included conduct unbecoming of an officer and failing to perform her duties. She was accused of failing to help her partner as he struggled to restrain a drunken woman in the first incident and interfering with two Ridgefield Park officers as they tried to restrain an emotionally disturbed man in the second.
After 12 days of hearings, retired Superior Court judge Richard J. Donohue upheld the department’s charges in August and ruled that Tasca’s actions violated the department’s rules and procedures. He upheld the unfit for duty charge and recommended that the borough fire her.
While the hearings were under way, Tasca sued the borough, Police Chief John Burke, Capt. James L. Sepp, Sgt. Robert Piterski and Officer Jerome Fowler in federal court in Newark, alleging a pattern of harassment, retaliation and discrimination during her tenure at the department, where she was the only woman on the force.
Her attorneys on Friday said they were not aware that the borough council had adopted the resolution and vowed to appeal in federal court. They also said they would consider amending the current complaint to include a wrongful termination claim.
“I think the only way Regina will get justice is in federal court with a jury, and we are more than happy to take the case there,” said Catherine Elston, one of Tasca’s attorneys. “It’s very apparent that the borough is not interested in doing the right and just thing in this matter … The right and just thing would have been to dismiss all the charges.”
Harry Norton, the attorney hired by Summit Risk Services, the borough’s insurance carrier, said Friday that as with any case there was always room for settlement. The only change is that the borough had adopted the hearing officer’s recommendation, he said.
“Maybe the playing field has changed a little bit, but settlement discussions are always ongoing,” Norton said.
The Borough Council initially passed a resolution on Sept. 20, adopting Donohue’s recommendation and setting Tasca’s last day as Sept. 27 if the borough and Tasca did not reach a deal.
Among the issues both sides were hoping to settle was whether Tasca would have to repay the entire $152,000 in salary she received while on suspension, when and how much of a pension she would be able to draw and the settlement of legal claims against the borough.
The deadline to reach a settlement was extended at the request of the borough’s insurer. However, no deal was reached ahead of Thursday night’s vote.
“We have the right tomorrow to go down to the pension board and tell them to hold up her pension because she owes us all this back pay from the time she was suspended from the job,” McHale said.