Probe of Millvale man's Tasering continues
By Adam Smeltz
Published: Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The Millvale man shocked by borough police now shakes constantly, developed a hand twitch and has been having severe panic and anxiety attacks since the Taser incident in September, his mother said Thursday.
“He's suffering,” said Ann Shannon, 46, of Millvale, who wants to see officials take action against the police involved. “He's more scared of people now than what he was before.”
She said her son, Thomas Jason Smith, 27, also endures severe back pain since his Sept. 21 arrest, when a borough officer used a Taser to shock him, a leaked video shows.
The FBI and the Allegheny County District Attorney's office are assessing the 52-second footage, which reveals Smith had been sitting on a floor shirtless and handcuffed just before a borough officer fired the device.
Investigators found the Taser was discharged 20 times within a short period, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said.
But he said it's unclear whether all those shocks were used on Smith, a question under review in the joint assessment with the FBI. The electroshock devices record the date and time of each discharge.
“Tasers are weapons, not toys,” Zappala said. He said firing it 20 times on Smith would amount to a crime.
FBI and DA investigators are looking at possible civil-rights violations and whether a deeper investigation should begin, FBI spokeswoman Kelly Kochamba said.
The officer listed in a criminal complaint against Smith as having fired the Taser, Nichole Murphy, and borough police Chief Derek Miller did not return repeated calls for comment, though Murphy wrote in the complaint that Smith tried to attack officers.
Millvale police disciplined Murphy soon after the September incident, then opened a fresh internal investigation in January when new video surfaced, borough solicitor Jack Cambest said.
He would not disclose Murphy's punishment but confirmed she was not suspended or fired.
“The investigation by the chief (Miller) is ongoing,” Cambest said Thursday, adding borough officials are cooperating with FBI and county officials. “We can't comment on any potential discipline until those investigations are complete.”
He has said the footage, sent anonymously to the Tribune-Review and lawyer David Shrager, was taken by a part-time officer for unknown reasons. It shows Smith muttering and banging his head on an office cubicle post before an emergency responder drags him away from the furniture by the arms.
Smith pulls away from that responder within moments, and an officer fires a Taser to subdue him just before the footage cuts off. The recording offers no evidence of an attack on officials.
Cambest has said a longer version of the video might have surfaced during the borough's investigation.
Smith has not relayed how many times he believes he was shocked, Shrager and Shannon said. But “his perception was that it went on forever,” Shrager said. Shannon said he has bipolar disorder, depression and other mental-health problems.
Smith has pleaded not guilty to the charges on which he was arrested Sept. 21, which include disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, resisting arrest and aggravated harassment by a prisoner. His arraignment is scheduled for Friday.
Meanwhile, Smith remains in the Allegheny County Jail on a 90-day sentence stemming from unpaid fines for summary offenses, Shrager said. He is due for release in March.
Staff writer Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report. Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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