Springdale cop accused of civil rights violation

Chuck Biedka
| Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 12:03 p.m.

A Springdale police sergeant is accused in federal court papers of depriving a man of his civil rights — a felony offense — while arresting him in 2011.

The papers, known as a “criminal information,” made public Friday state that Sgt. Mark E. Thom Jr., 31, used an electronic Taser and his fists on a man, identified only as “GC” on Dec. 17, 2011.

Criminal information papers require the accused person, in this case, Thom, to agree to enter a guilty plea and the government to accept it. Otherwise, the U.S. Attorney's Office may use indictments from a grand jury to file charges, according to attorney Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at St. Vincent College, near Latrobe.

The process is roughly akin to a plea bargain in county court.

Thom, a full-time officer in Springdale, declined comment on Friday. He referred calls to his attorney, Robert E. Stewart, who didn't return repeated calls to his office and cellphone placed by a reporter.

Thom is separately named with other officers in a federal civil lawsuit that accuses Thom of using excessive force.

Borough Council President Dave Finley said the feds haven't informed the council or Mayor Eileen Miller about the accusation.

“The borough is completely in the dark,” Finley said.

Finley said Thom will “likely be placed on administrative leave until the facts are known.”

Thom was on duty on Thursday.

Miller deferred comment to Finley.

Police Chief Joseph Naviglia was on vacation and not available for comment.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to identify GC or provide any other details on Friday.

However, according to Thom's Dec. 17, 2011, police incident report, Thom and another officer pulled over a white Cadillac Escalade, with a Minnesota license plate, just after 6 a.m. on Pittsburgh Street after trying to pull the vehicle over earlier.

The 35-year-old driver, Gary Lee Cahill of West Ninth Avenue, Tarentum, allegedly appeared intoxicated and police say they found empty beer bottles and suspected marijuana on the passenger seat.

Thom said the man was arrested but the much larger Cahill started to push back against Thom when he tried to put him into the back seat of a police SUV.

Thom said he zapped Cahill with a Taser, but both probes didn't enter the suspect. So Thom used a stun gun and Cahill stopped resisting.

Thom's police report also alleges that the suspect threatened Thom.

According to court records, Cahill was charged with drunken driving, driving while his license was suspended, resisting arrest, fleeing or attempting to elude police, marijuana possession, and other charges.

At a hearing on March 26, 2012, a district judge held all charges against Cahill for court.

The man was scheduled to have a non-jury trial in Allegheny County Court in November, but that was delayed once. Court records show the man's non-jury trial is scheduled for March 27.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to say if a grand jury made an inquiry about Thom last summer and if the inquiry involved additional allegations.

However, Finley said he testified before a grand jury about Thom.

“I did testify on Mark Thom's behalf,” Finley said.“Mark is one of the best officers we've had,” Finley said. “He is extremely good, very well liked and does an excellent job.”

Thom was a part-time officer for East Deer, Sharpsburg and Tarentum, when that police department patrolled Frazer, before he was hired by as a part-time officer at Springdale Township. He was named a full-time officer for the borough in June 2009 and was promoted to sergeant, second to the chief, last June.

In February 2010, an off-duty Allegheny County police officer was arrested by Thom, who threw him to the snow-covered ground for allegedly threatening officers and not identifying himself to local officers.In the pending federal case, Raymond Hrabos is suing Thom, Naviglia, other officers and the borough.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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