Allegheny County sheriff responds to lawsuit from Ross amputee

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A Ross woman who on Monday sued Allegheny County was resisting arrest during the incident in which she claims resulted in the loss of one arm, Sheriff Bill Mullen said today.

“We picked her up on a bench warrant. She resisted. She pleaded guilty to those charges," Sheriff Mullen said in response to a lawsuit by Amy J. Needham, 35.

“This is the first complaint we’ve had on it," the sheriff added. "Every time there’s a use of force, we look at that. Every time there’s a Taser use, we look at that," but the incident involving Ms. Needham did not raise any extraordinary issues.

Ms. Needham was arrested April 2 by county sheriffs, according to her civil complaint. She was wanted on a bench warrant after missing a hearing on another charge of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct related to a January incident.

When sheriff's office employees arrived, Ms. Needham said she was using the bathroom, but they broke down the bathroom door, according to her complaint. They shocked her with a Taser, applied arm bars and wrist locks, and put on handcuffs "that were too tight," her complaint said.

“Normal practice for us is if they’re injured we take them to the hospital because the jail won’t take them," Sheriff Mullen said. “This will all be played out in the courts.”

The arrest, according to her complaint, caused "compartment syndrome," which is increased pressure in a muscle compartment that can damage both muscles and nerves. She claims that she could not get physician's attention during a week in jail despite 16 requests, and when she was finally sent to UPMC Mercy, her arm had to be amputated above the elbow.

Ms. Needham eventually pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in the January incident, and to resisting arrest and simple assault in her altercation with the sheriff's employees.

With attorney Marvin Leibowitz, she has sued Sheriff Mullen, sheriff's Lt. John Kearney, sheriff's Detective Jared Kulik, Allegheny County, and Allegheny Correctional Health Services, which ran the jail infirmary through August. The complaint alleges excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment, battery and negligence, and demands more than $75,000 in damages.

A county spokeswoman has declined to comment.

Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord.

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