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FBI investigating whether Millvale police violated civil rights in Taser incident

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 6:36 p.m.

The FBI and Allegheny County District Attorney's Office will begin a full investigation into an incident in which Millvale police used a Taser on a handcuffed man, FBI spokeswoman Kelly Kochamba confirmed Tuesday.

Kochamba said the investigation will focus on whether police committed civil rights violations on Sept. 21, when they shocked Thomas Jason Smith, 27, of Millvale.

She said an initial assessment of the incident has found enough evidence to warrant the more thorough review, though she would not put a timeline on the investigation.

“There is enough information, but we don't comment on the details of that,” Kochamba said, declining to elaborate.

Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., declined to comment on Kochamba's remarks but said any deviation from county standards for Taser use “is cause for concern both for our office and the community.”

Borough police arrested Smith on charges that included disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, resisting arrest and aggravated harassment by a prisoner. A 52-second leaked video shows an officer using a Taser to shock a shirtless, handcuffed Smith after officials took him into custody.

Smith has bipolar disorder, depression and other mental health problems, according to his mother, Ann Shannon of Millvale. The recording shows him knocking his head against office furniture just before an emergency-responder drags him away by the arms. An officer fires the Taser when Smith begins pulling away from the other responder.

The FBI and district attorney's office started reviewing the matter in January, when an unidentified person sent the video to the Tribune-Review and Downtown-based attorney David Shrager. Shrager is now representing Smith, whose family has not ruled out civil action. Smith has pleaded not guilty to the Sept. 21 charges.

Shrager said he's confident that FBI and county officials “will perform a complete and thorough investigation.”

“This is the outcome I had anticipated and hoped for,” Shrager wrote via email. He said Smith's family is looking only for justice and “the full truth of what happened.”

Smith remains in Allegheny County Jail on a 90-day sentence stemming from unpaid fines for unrelated summary offenses and is expected for release in March.

Millvale solicitor Jack Cambest, police Chief Derek Miller and Officer Nichole Murphy, identified in a criminal complaint as having subdued Smith, could not be reached on Tuesday.

Millvale Council is receiving updates through Cambest and Mayor Vincent F. Cinski's office, said council President James Machajewski. Cinski referred questions to Cambest.

“We're concerned, but we're waiting for additional information,” Machajewski said.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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