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Taser recipient foggy on details; Millvale Borough attorney says it likely fired two or three times

| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 12:03 a.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
As his attorney David Shrager (right) listens, Thomas Jason Smith gestures toward his back as he describes when a Millvale police officer used a Taser to shock him while he was in custody. Smith gave an interview from his family home in Millvale, Friday, March 8, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
As his attorney David Shrager (right) listens, Thomas Jason Smith gestures toward his back as he describes when a Millvale police officer used a Taser to shock him while he was in custody. Smith gave an interview from his family home in Millvale, Friday, March 8, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
As his attorney David Shrager (right) listens, Thomas Jason Smith gestures toward his back as he describes when a Millvale police officer used a Taser to shock him while he was in custody. Smith gave an interview from his family home in Millvale, Friday, March 8, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
As his attorney David Shrager (right) listens, Thomas Jason Smith gestures toward his back as he describes when a Millvale police officer used a Taser to shock him while he was in custody. Smith gave an interview from his family home in Millvale, Friday, March 8, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
As his attorney David Shrager (right) listens, Thomas Jason Smith gestures toward his back as he describes when a Millvale police officer used a Taser to shock him while he was in custody. Smith gave an interview from his family home in Millvale, Friday, March 8, 2013.

Millvale police likely shocked a handcuffed man two or three times in the station in September, even though outside investigators found an officer's Taser was discharged 20 times, borough solicitor Jack Cambest said Friday.

“The equipment may have registered 20. But I guess you could call them false firings” that the Taser recorded earlier, Cambest said, citing an internal review run by police Chief Derek Miller. “That's our understanding.”

The FBI and Allegheny County District Attorney's Office are investigating whether police violated Thomas Jason Smith's civil rights on Sept. 21 when Officer Nichole Murphy used the Taser on him. A video shows Smith, 27, sitting shirtless on a floor just before police shocked him.

“It's really a blur,” Smith said Friday, trying to recall the incident. Police arrested him on charges of disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, resisting arrest and aggravated harassment by a prisoner. He was released from the Allegheny County Jail on Tuesday following an unrelated, 90-day sentence for unpaid fines.

Smith pleaded not guilty to the Sept. 21 charges. He said he doesn't remember how many times the Taser was fired or how many people were in the room. He remembers standing up and being shocked from behind.

“I looked and there wasn't anybody there but someone had Tased me,” Smith said. “Then I just stood up again. I wasn't bothering anyone. I don't even think there was any commands or anything.

“Next thing I know, I have two clamps stuck in my back” from the Taser, he said of the second shock. “I'm not sure how long it went on at all. It just felt like it was going on forever.”

Neither Miller nor Murphy responded to calls seeking comment.

Although police leadership disciplined Murphy soon after the incident, Miller began looking at the matter again when someone leaked the 52-second video in January to the Tribune-Review and Downtown-based attorney David Shrager.

Cambest said others in the police department might be disciplined in connection with the case. Miller has finished his internal investigation.

“We're giving (FBI and county investigators) a little bit more time to see if they come up with anything additional,” Cambest said.

It isn't clear how long the investigation might run.

“We continue to review the matter and that's all I can really say at this point,” said Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Smith said the FBI interviewed him in jail.

Shrager said Smith's family members are “exploring every possible civil remedy, up to and including filing a civil lawsuit.” Smith has bipolar disorder, depression and other mental health problems, according to his mother, Ann Shannon of Millvale.

Shannon and Smith said they're looking to leave the area. He said the Taser incident left him with lasting physical effects, including a numb hand, and a cautious outlook.

“I don't go around people as much. I try to stay away from the police department, if possible,” Smith said. “I try to take an alleyway so I'm not on the main streets, so I'm not seen. I just try to take precautions.”

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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