After months of turmoil in its troubled police department, West Reading Borough Council voted Wednesday night to fire Police Chief Edward C. Fabriziani, Sgt. Richard Vetter and Officer Ronald E. Ladd.
"We had a rough night, as you can imagine," Councilman James J. Gallen Jr. said after the vote, which was preceded by a 2 1/2 -hour executive session that left some council members teary-eyed.
Fabriziani and Council President Kevin M. Conrad declined to comment on the action, and Ladd and Vetter were not present.
Reached at home following the meeting, Ladd's wife said that the couple needed a couple of days to deal with things before they would comment.
While council gave no reason for the terminations, Fabriziani and Ladd had been placed on paid administrative leave after they scuffled Aug. 31 in Fabriziani's office.
According to sources, the confrontation stemmed from Ladd's disagreement with the chief and Officer Thomas A. Hawn over their decision not to arrest a man accused of violating a protection-from-abuse order.
Ladd was charged with harassment and is scheduled to appear for a summary trial today before Senior District Judge Paul J. Hadzick.
Council also voted Wednesday to authorize Mayor Shane J. Keller to take appropriate action against Hawn. It was unclear what that action would be.
The scuffle was just the latest in a string of embarrassments involving several current and former members of the department.
Unlike Fabriziani and Ladd, Vetter had never been identified publicly in connection with any of those incidents.
And while Fabriziani was on administrative leave, Vetter was one of two officers placed in charge of the department.
Among the first indications of troubles in the department, which Fabriziani had led since 1996, was an investigation launched last year after borough officials learned that officers had used department-issued stun guns on each other and some unwilling civilians.
Sgt. Matthew R. Beighley, Sgt. Ryan Phillips and Officer Nick Karetas were fired, but an arbitration ruling in September gave Phillips and Karetas their jobs back.
According to testimony at the officers' administrative hearings, some officers in the department had drinking problems and showed up to work and training sessions intoxicated.
Other testimony cited instances of officers punching each other in the face, using racial epithets against civilians and leaving confiscated drug paraphernalia on their desks as decorations.
In September, council voted to form a committee to explore all possible options for policing the borough in the future.
Last month, Gallen said that the committee -- consisting of Gallen, Conrad, Councilwoman Elizabeth Heckler and Keller -- would enter into discussions with neighboring municipalities and the state police regarding the possibility of consolidating the borough's police force.
"Everybody on council is deeply, deeply concerned over what has happened over the last several years," he said at the time. "We all care. We're all deeply concerned, but we're obligated to remain mum on personnel issues. We have to follow the letter of the law."
Councilwoman Amy B. Good was absent from the special meeting due to a family emergency.
Copyright 2012 - Reading Eagle, Pa.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service