Man hit by Taser in custody of Millvale police speaks out

He may have been shocked 20 times

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When a police officer used a Taser on handcuffed Thomas Jason Smith in September, he said "it felt like it went on forever."

A 53-second video that surfaced in January shows a shirtless Mr. Smith, 27, being shocked with a Taser by Millvale Officer Nicole Murphy.

Attorney David Shrager, who is representing Mr. Smith, said they plan to "vigorously defend" charges stemming from the Sept. 21 incident and are exploring potential civil remedies -- "anything up to and including filing a lawsuit."

The FBI and the district attorney's office are investigating.

Mr. Smith, who has mental health issues, was drive-stunned in the left shoulder and shot with darts in the lower back, he said.

A drive stun makes contact with the person as a pain compliance technique, Mr. Shrager said. A Taser can also deploy two darts that deliver a five-second pulse each time the trigger is pushed, he said.

When Mr. Smith was hit with the darts in his lower back he said it was like "nothing I ever felt in my entire life."

An investigation by the district attorney's office showed that the Taser used on Mr. Smith was discharged 20 times, but it is unclear if all of those charges struck him.

Mr. Smith recounted the September incident Friday afternoon in his Millvale home.

His mother, Ann Shannon, said she cried when she saw the video. "We're supposed to be humans," she said. "We're supposed to have some kind of respect, and they did that to him."

Mr. Smith was serving a 90-day jail sentence after being unable to pay a fine for an unrelated summary offense when the video surfaced, Mr. Shrager said. Mr. Smith was released Tuesday.

Mr. Shrager said based on the video, "it doesn't appear the situation was handled appropriately."

"I just don't think there's any justification for Tasing him once or twice or three times, let alone 20," he said.

An account from Officer Murphy in a criminal complaint said Mr. Smith "became violent, hitting his head off of the jail cell wall." He then "tried to go after and spit on" an officer.

Officer Murphy wrote in the complaint that she drive-stunned Mr. Smith "for officer safety and to gain control of the situation."

"Tasers are weapons. They're not toys," District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said in January. "If he was stunned 20 times in a short period of time, then we've got a crime."

The investigation is still in active review, and the district attorney's office continues to work with the FBI, spokesman Mike Manko said.

Millvale police arrested Mr. Smith on Sept. 21, and charged him with aggravated harassment by prisoner, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness. His trial is set for 9 a.m. March 26.

The Millvale Police Department investigated internally and disciplined Officer Murphy, who remains a full-time employee of the borough. Millvale officials did not return calls for comment Friday night.

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Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc.


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