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Federal grand jury indicts Millvale police officer for tasing cuffed suspect

Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Thomas Jason James Smith of Millvale leaves his attorney's Downtown office Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2013.

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By Brian Bowling and Adam Smeltz
Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 10:06 a.m.
 

A Millvale man and his family probably won't celebrate the indictment of a police officer who is shown on video repeatedly tasing him, said an attorney who represented the man.

“Quite frankly, I don't think that that is of major concern to them,” said Downtown attorney David Shrager. “They're not vengeance-oriented. He just wants to do what's required of him under the law, cooperate with the FBI and move on with his life.”

A federal grand jury on Tuesday charged Millvale police Officer Nichole Murphy with violating the civil rights of Thomas Jason James Smith on Sept. 21, 2012.

Millvale police had arrested Smith, 28, for public drunkenness. He was sitting handcuffed on the floor of the police station when he started banging his head against a desk. Using both the probes and making direct contact with the Taser, Murphy repeatedly shocked Smith to make him stop, according to court documents.

Shrager represented Smith on the criminal charges police filed against him. Smith pleaded guilty to public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.

His mother previously told the Tribune-Review that Smith has bipolar disorder, depression and other mental health problems.

Murphy, 30, of Shaler and police Chief Derek Miller couldn't be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The police department conducted an internal investigation and reprimanded Murphy. She received additional training on the use of a Taser, said Jack Cambest, the borough's solicitor.

Borough council will have to decide whether to place Murphy, a part-time officer, on paid or unpaid leave while the charges are pending, he said. Council's next regular meeting is Tuesday, but it probably won't make a decision then, Cambest said.

“I would expect that if there's any action taken, it will be taken within the next month, one way or the other,” he said.

Mayor Vincent Cinski and council President James Machajewski Jr. couldn't be reached for comment.

Millvale paid Smith $37,500 last month to settle a civil lawsuit he filed. Gianni Floro, the lawyer who represented him in the civil case, said the indictment surprised him.

Floro, who has 10 years of experience in bringing civil rights cases that include allegations of police misconduct, said it's rare for such a case to result in criminal charges.

“I think that it's important for the Justice Department to investigate and potentially prosecute these types of cases if they find them to be warranted,” he said.

Shrager said he wasn't surprised by the indictment because he knew the Justice Department had conducted a thorough investigation. Smith and his family cooperated but didn't do so out of spite, he said.

“My client does not have any malice toward the officer or any agenda,” Shrager said.

Smith couldn't be reached for comment. Shrager said the incident left Smith more fearful of others but that he's doing well.

“He's a very hard worker and a very kind and compassionate young man,” Shrager said. “I've never heard him during this entire situation say anything mean or hateful or negative.”

Brian Bowling and Adam Smeltz are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach Bowling at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com. Reach Smeltz at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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