ShareThis Page

Taser victim may get $155,000 settlement

| Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Mt. Lebanon man who sued the city and a Pittsburgh police officer who shot him with a Taser could soon receive a $155,000 settlement.

Daniel A. Hackett III, 53, said in a federal lawsuit he was Tasered on March 15, 2008, after yelling at Officer Edward Cunningham, who cited him for failing to use a turn signal.

"I would hope the city and police use this as an opportunity to look at their training practices and procedures with respect to free speech cases," Hackett said. "A Taser is supposed to be used in lieu of deadly force."

If City Council does not approve the settlement, the case would go to a jury, where the payout could be even greater, Councilman Doug Shields said.

"Unfortunately, City Council is going to vote this through without much discussion because it's in the context of litigation," Shields said. "Matters like this are always troublesome."

According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Hackett was cited for failing to use a turn signal in the South Side on March 15, 2008. Minutes later, he observed someone urinating on a building and a car driving through a red light, prompting him to yell at officers inside a patrol car: "There's a red light runner and there's a guy (urinating) on a building, and I get a ticket for (not) using my turn signal?"

Hackett said he was then confronted by Cunningham, a passenger in the patrol car, who Tasered him multiple times, put him in handcuffs and Tasered him several more times. Cunningham charged Hackett with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, but those charges were dropped in December.

Fraternal Order of Police attorney Bryan Campbell said in court documents Cunningham has immunity because he was acting "within the scope of his authority" as a police officer. Officer Dan O'Hara, president of the police union, did not return calls seeking comment. Assistant City Solicitor Michael Kennedy, who helped with the city's defense, declined to comment.

Last week, City Council approved a $12,500 settlement with a former Pittsburgh police officer who sued over a 2007 incident in which he said he was attacked by a police sergeant.

Andy Mazarra, director of Penn State's Institute for Non-Lethal Defense Technologies' Applied Research Laboratory, said the Taser was designed to be used as an alternative to deadly force. Mazarra said Tasers, which have become increasingly popular among police in recent years, are used for the safety of the suspect, the police officer and the general public.

"In general, the Taser is shown to be a very well-accepted device used by law enforcement, and it's well-accepted because it's safe," he said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.