Taser victim may get $155,000 settlement

| Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Mt. Lebanon man who sued the city and a Pittsburgh police officer who shot him with a Taser could soon receive a $155,000 settlement.

Daniel A. Hackett III, 53, said in a federal lawsuit he was Tasered on March 15, 2008, after yelling at Officer Edward Cunningham, who cited him for failing to use a turn signal.

"I would hope the city and police use this as an opportunity to look at their training practices and procedures with respect to free speech cases," Hackett said. "A Taser is supposed to be used in lieu of deadly force."

If City Council does not approve the settlement, the case would go to a jury, where the payout could be even greater, Councilman Doug Shields said.

"Unfortunately, City Council is going to vote this through without much discussion because it's in the context of litigation," Shields said. "Matters like this are always troublesome."

According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Hackett was cited for failing to use a turn signal in the South Side on March 15, 2008. Minutes later, he observed someone urinating on a building and a car driving through a red light, prompting him to yell at officers inside a patrol car: "There's a red light runner and there's a guy (urinating) on a building, and I get a ticket for (not) using my turn signal?"

Hackett said he was then confronted by Cunningham, a passenger in the patrol car, who Tasered him multiple times, put him in handcuffs and Tasered him several more times. Cunningham charged Hackett with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, but those charges were dropped in December.

Fraternal Order of Police attorney Bryan Campbell said in court documents Cunningham has immunity because he was acting "within the scope of his authority" as a police officer. Officer Dan O'Hara, president of the police union, did not return calls seeking comment. Assistant City Solicitor Michael Kennedy, who helped with the city's defense, declined to comment.

Last week, City Council approved a $12,500 settlement with a former Pittsburgh police officer who sued over a 2007 incident in which he said he was attacked by a police sergeant.

Andy Mazarra, director of Penn State's Institute for Non-Lethal Defense Technologies' Applied Research Laboratory, said the Taser was designed to be used as an alternative to deadly force. Mazarra said Tasers, which have become increasingly popular among police in recent years, are used for the safety of the suspect, the police officer and the general public.

"In general, the Taser is shown to be a very well-accepted device used by law enforcement, and it's well-accepted because it's safe," he said.

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