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Former Springdale cop admits abusing suspect

| Friday, March 8, 2013, 12:16 p.m.

A former Springdale police sergeant admitted in federal court on Friday that he punched and Tasered a man who was handcuffed and sitting in the back of a police cruiser.

Mark E. Thom Jr., 31, of Springdale choked up as he pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of Gary Cahill, 36, of Tarentum during a December 2011 traffic stop.

“Guil …, guil…, excuse me, guilty your honor,” a shaking Thom said.

Adriana Vieco, a Washington, D.C., prosecutor for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said an eyewitness reported Cahill and Thom cursing at each other before Thom punched Cahill in the side and said, “Take that.”

The altercation escalated until Thom shouted, “Stop resisting” at a seated Cahill, pulled out his Taser and shocked Cahill in the chest and leg, she said.

Robert Stewart, Thom's attorney, said after the hearing that Thom had a rough childhood, growing up with parents who were addicted to drugs and a brother who died of an overdose. He said Thom had thought Cahill was a drug dealer.

Stewart said he will seek a reduced sentence for Thom.

The government and Thom agree that federal guidelines will recommend either a sentence of 1 12 to 2 years or a sentence of 2 years to 2 12 years, depending on whether U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak finds that Thom also obstructed justice by filing an incomplete report of the incident.

Stewart said he will be arguing for a sentence of home confinement based on Thom's character and history.

Hornak scheduled Thom's sentencing for July 12.

The judge allowed Thom to remain free on a $10,000 unsecured bond but ordered federal marshals to temporarily take him into custody while federal probation officers search his house for weapons.

Vieco told the judge that the Justice Department doesn't believe Thom, who is being sued by another police officer for the use of excessive force, has a history of violence and doesn't pose a threat to the community. She declined to comment after the hearing.

Thom, who joined the force in 2008, was on paid administrative leave but resigned effective Friday, said Borough Manager Ron Borczyk. He declined to discuss whether council was considering firing Thom.

“Anything that was done was done in executive session, and I can't really comment,” he said.

Thom is facing a federal civil lawsuit by Allegheny County Police Officer Raymond Hrabos. Hrabos, who was heading home after work, was blocked by a vehicle occupied by Thom and another police officer who was also off-duty, according to the lawsuit.

When Hrabos asked them why they were blocking the road, Thom got out and pointed his gun at Hrabos, according to the suit.

When Hrabos identified himself as a police officer, Thom holstered his gun but then tackled Hrabos to the ground, the lawsuit claims.

Hrabos is suing Thom, police Chief Joe Naviglia, other officers and Springdale Borough government.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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