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Anonymous video raises Taser concerns

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Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Tuesday his office will review video of Millvale police shooting a man with a stun gun in September while he was in custody and handcuffed.

“We'll take a look at it,” said Zappala, adding that he wants to be sure he has a full, unedited version of the video.

The video was anonymously sent to David Schrager, a Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer.

The 52-second video shows a man whom Schrager identifies as Thomas Jason Smith, 27 of Millvale, handcuffed and beating his head against furniture as he rocks back and forth on his knees.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, Smith was arrested for fighting and, once in custody, tried to kick and spit at police officers.

The video shows police officers and EMS personnel laughing in the background shortly before Smith is shot with Taser probes.

“I realize that people have to make split-second decisions. I would call this, at best, disturbing. There is a young man who clearly suffers from issues and is banging his head against furniture. It seems like there certainly was a better way to handle the situation,” Schrager said.

Millvale Mayor Vincent F. Cinski, who oversees the borough's 10-member police department, declined to comment, citing the possibility of litigation.

Millvale police Chief Derek Miller did not return phone calls.

Police arrested Smith on charges of disorderly conduct and public drunkenness on Sept. 21. He is also charged with aggravated harassment by a prisoner, a felony. He was released from jail in November and arrested again that same month on drug and weapons charges. He is being held in the Allegheny County Jail and has a hearing scheduled for Jan. 25.

Zappala said no department in the county is permitted to use Tasers without a policy governing their use and without training.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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