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Inmate from Fayette County appeals dismissal of civil rights lawsuit

| Tuesday, March 1, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

An inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Pittsburgh has appealed a U.S. District Court judge's decision last year dismissing his federal civil rights lawsuit against a former Fayette County police officer.

James S. Thompson, 60, formerly of Republic, on Tuesday appealed U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan's decision in August that former Redstone Officer Norman Howard did not violate his civil rights by using excessive force during a traffic stop on March 9, 2008.

Thompson, who is serving a state sentence on drug-related and illegal possession of a firearm complaints, alleges in his appeal of the civil case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that during the traffic stop, Howard shot him with a Taser, shouted racial epithets, repeatedly beat him with a baton and then fired shots that left him “fearing for his life,” according to the appeal.

The judge granted Howard's motion to dismiss the civil lawsuit, stating that the officer acted reasonably and was looking out for the safety of the public because evidence showed Thompson “posed an imminent threat.” The judge noted that Thompson admitted to police that he had his foot “all the way on the floor ... not looking where he was going” as he sped away from the scene and hit the side of another Redstone officer's marked police car.

He was convicted of aggravated assault in the incident.

However, Thompson's attorney, M. Patrick Yingling of Reed Smith LLP's Pittsburgh office, argues that Lenihan should have permitted a federal jury to hear the evidence.

“James Thompson is merely seeking an opportunity to present his case to a jury of his peers. He was fortunate to escape this incident with his life,” the appeal states.

Howard was let go from the Redstone police force in fall 2014 because of an unrelated domestic incident. He was indicted last year by a federal grand jury on two felony criminal counts for using unreasonable force but pleaded guilty last fall to a single, misdemeanor count of using unreasonable force.

On Jan. 25, he was sentenced to serve three years of federal probation, with the first six months on house arrest, according to court documents.

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