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Thom, Springdale, 2 others sued over 2011 Tasering in police car

| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 12:16 a.m.
File photo
Former Springdale Police Sgt. Mark Thom

Springdale Borough knew police Officer Mark Thom was violent and had unnecessarily Tasered citizens before his Dec. 17, 2011, assault on a handcuffed Tarentum man, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Thom pleaded guilty in March to a federal criminal charge of depriving Gary Cahill, 36, of his civil rights by punching and Tasering Cahill as he sat, handcuffed, in the back of a police cruiser following what Cahill calls an unprovoked traffic stop.

Cahill is suing Thom, the borough, former police Chief Joseph Naviglia, who retired in May, and former Officer Jeremy Liotta, who was present during the assault, the suit claims.

Borough Council President Dave Finley declined comment on the lawsuit: “I know nothing about it.”

Finley last month defended Thom, saying he was the victim of a “character assassination.”

In the lawsuit, Cahill claims Thom pointed an AR-15 rifle at him, then handcuffed him and placed him in the back of Thom's police cruiser. He claims Thom berated him, punched him in the face and Tasered him repeatedly.

Cahill was charged with resisting arrest, attempting to flee an officer, drunken driving, possession of marijuana and other charges. The case against him was dropped last month, according to court records.

“Defendants Springdale and Naviglia were on notice of Thom's violent propensities, his improper and excessive use of force, including the unnecessary Tasering of citizens, and were on notice that Thom carried out false arrests and/or filed false and unfounded criminal charges against citizens,” according to Cahill's lawsuit.

Off-duty Allegheny County police Officer Raymond A. Hrabos last year filed a federal lawsuit against Thom, Liotta, Naviglia, the borough and another borough officer, claiming his civil rights were violated during a February 2010 incident in which Thom allegedly assaulted him after Hrabos tapped on the window of an officer's pickup truck to find out why he was blocking a narrow, snow-covered street.

The borough's insurer in March paid $98,500 to settle that suit.

Thom resigned from the force the same day he pleaded guilty to the federal civil rights charges but Springdale Council last month hired him as a summer public works employee.

Thom originally was to be sentenced on July 12 but U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak agreed to postpone sentencing until Oct. 22 at Thom's request.

In a motion filed on June 28 by Thom's attorney, Robert E. Stewart of Pittsburgh, the defense said it needed additional time before presenting “certain factors (that) will potentially have a dramatic impact on the Court's consideration to the appropriate sentence imposed.”

The government and Thom agreed federal guidelines call for a maximum sentence of 30 months in prison if Hornak finds Thom obstructed justice by filing an incomplete report of the incident. Stewart has said he will argue for home confinement, based on Thom's character and history.

Liotta also is facing criminal charges stemming from a May 17 traffic stop in which Harmar police allege he had a powdered form a diabetes drug and his Springdale police badge that officials say he stole. He tentatively faces a preliminary hearing on the charges on July 10.

Liz Hayes and Brian Bowling are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Hayes can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com. Bowling can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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