Millvale officer pleads not guilty in use of Taser on handcuffed man

When a drunken arrestee began banging his head against a Millvale Police Department desk, Officer Nicole Murphy did the right thing when she shocked him with her Taser, her attorney argued after her arraignment Tuesday.

“This guy was out of control,” defense attorney Robert Stewart said after entering a plea of not guilty on behalf of Officer Murphy. “They believed he was on some substance, continually banging his head,” and shouting that he was not a murderer.

He said that the public has seen only a portion of a video surreptitiously taken of the incident, in which a kneeling and handcuffed Thomas Jason James Smith endured several shocks. The entire video tells a more complete story, he said.

Raw video: Taser used on handcuffed man

This raw video shows a Millvale police officer using a taser on a handcuffed man. (6/24/2014)

“She had a choice of either Tasering him or letting him split his head open,” Mr. Stewart said. “We absolutely are going to trial at this point.”

Officer Murphy, 30, of Shaler said little at her arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy, other than promising to sell her gun promptly. She was released on $25,000 unsecured bond.

Officer Murphy was charged with depriving another of civil rights for using the Taser against Mr. Smith, 28, in September 2012.

Millvale paid $37,500 to resolve Mr. Smith’s resulting lawsuit against the borough and the officer.

There is no universal rule against using a Taser when the subject is already handcuffed, said Thomas J. Aveni, a police officer since 1978 and executive director of the Police Policy Studies Council, a consulting group focused on the use of force.

“I don’t see a problem with it, because there have been many documented cases of officers who have been killed by subjects who were handcuffed and already searched,” Officer Aveni said. He noted that officers have an obligation to keep subjects from harming themselves, and called Tasers “the most effective tool for use against substance abusers who are resistant to pain,” with a relatively low risk of injury.

Officer Murphy has been taken off the schedule at Millvale but is still employed there, said Mr. Stewart. Neither borough manager Amy Rockwell nor police Chief Derek Miller could be reached for comment.

Officer Murphy also has been employed with Allegheny County as a telecommunications officer since Sept. 3, starting part time then advancing to full time at a pay rate of $28,080 annually. County spokeswoman Amie Downs told the Post-Gazette that the defendant is suspended without pay.

Mr. Stewart said he believed that “the source of the video was a fellow officer” who was “disgruntled.” He did not name the officer.

“If he was so offended by her actions, instead of just standing there taping it, I would have expected him to step in,” Mr. Stewart said. Capturing the event on video “was a ploy” to harm Officer Murphy, he said.

Assistant U.S. attorney Carolyn J. Bloch and Department of Justice Civil Rights Division attorney Cindy K. Chung are prosecuting the case.

Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. Kaitlynn Riely contributed. First Published June 24, 2014 12:00 AM

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