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Taser video doesn't tell whole story, Millvale solicitor says

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By Adam Smeltz
Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Investigators might have obtained a more comprehensive recording of a Millvale police officer shocking a handcuffed man than the video that was leaked to the media, borough solicitor Jack Cambest said on Friday.

After discussions with police Chief Derek Miller, Cambest said a new and better video might have surfaced on Thursday during an interview with a part-time officer who observed and recorded the Sept. 21 incident.

Miller did not return a call for comment.

“I have not seen it,” Cambest said of the recording. “The investigation is still ongoing” by Millvale.

A 52-second video leaked to the Tribune-Review and attorney David Shrager this week shows Thomas Jason Smith, 27, of Millvale sitting on a floor shirtless with his hands cuffed behind his back. Smith knocks his head against some furniture before an emergency responder drags him away by the arms.

When Smith pulls away from that responder, a police officer identified as Nichole Murphy fires a Taser to subdue the man just before the recording cuts off.

Murphy wrote in a criminal complaint that Smith tried to attack officers. The footage does not reflect that.

Murphy did not return calls.

That video might have been incomplete, and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said he wanted to be sure he had a full, unedited version for a review he announced on Tuesday.

The FBI joined the DA's office in that effort, looking in part for possible civil rights violations.

Zappala spokesman Mike Manko said the office now has “the full video in question,” though he declined to specify whether it's longer than the version the Trib obtained.

“When questions arise concerning the use of force on someone who is in custody, the district attorney wants to see those questions answered,” Manko wrote via email.

Smith's mother said he has bipolar disorder and other mental health issues, according to Shrager, his attorney. Police arrested Smith on Sept. 21 on charges of disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, resisting arrest and aggravated harassment by a prisoner.

He was released from jail in November but arrested again in the same month on drug and weapons charges. Smith remains in the county jail awaiting a hearing Jan. 25.

“Certainly he doesn't believe he did anything that would warrant the treatment he received,” Shrager said.

Cambest said police leadership disciplined Murphy shortly after the incident but opened an internal investigation when the footage emerged this week.

Murphy was not suspended or terminated.

The borough is looking at whether police broke policies and how the video reached the news media.

Shrager said he does not know who leaked the video to him. The source who supplied it to the Trib has not revealed his or her identity either.

“If they want to come forward, they can,” Shrager said.

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

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