Born into trouble, Mark E. Thom Jr. somehow rose into small-town law enforcement before being dragged down by what a prosecutor called his "vengeful, nasty and malicious" side.
Now the former Springdale Borough police sergeant faces a year and a day in prison for depriving a handcuffed man of civil rights by punching and shocking him with a Taser.
"I've always wanted to be a police officer and do what's right," said a weeping, shaking Thom, 32, as U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak prepared to sentence him. "I'm sorry for not being a better police officer and not doing my job the right way."
"We rely on trust and faith in all of the people that are part of the criminal justice system," Judge Hornak told Thom. "You will never serve as a police officer again."
Defense attorney Robert Stewart argued that Thom's childhood, in a family torn by drug abuse, would have slated most people for outcomes including "junkie, jail or dead." Instead, Thom forged a career, found a loving wife and had children.
Assistant U.S. attorney Shaun Sweeney, though, referenced letters submitted by two law enforcement veterans who knew Thom.
Former Springdale Borough chief Joseph Naviglia wrote that Thom is "a habitual liar and a very conniving and manipulative person" who spread false rumors against his chief in retaliation for his cooperation with the federal investigation that led to the civil rights charge. Mr. Naviglia wrote that borough council members protected and then defended Thom.
Springdale Township police Officer Scott Huckabaa wrote that over time Thom "became worse and more abusive to prisoners" as he concluded that he would not be punished for that behavior. Officer Huckabaa wrote that following his appearance before the grand jury, Thom spread "lies including me being a drug dealer, drug user, and having Hepatitis C."
Mr. Stewart called the letters a product of "small-town politics."
After the sentence was pronounced, the defense attorney said the prison term was a sign that "the days of rough and tumble police enforcement" may be numbered in Western Pennsylvania.
Thom's victim, Gary Cahill, was pulled over in his Cadillac Escalade on Dec. 17, 2011. Cahill, 37, of Harmar has had numerous run-ins with the law and several convictions for assaults and driving violations.
Thom approached Cahill with an AR-15 rifle, yanked him from the vehicle, handcuffed him and placed him in the back of his police cruiser, the prosecution has maintained. Thom then punched Cahill, yelled, "stop resisting," and shocked the man twice with his Taser, according to the charges.
After the charges were filed, Thom was placed on leave, and he resigned shortly before pleading guilty.
Springdale settled Cahill's lawsuit related to the incident, with the borough's insurer paying $225,000. The borough also settled, for $98,500, a separate lawsuit by Allegheny County police Officer Ray Hrabos, who said he was assaulted and falsely accused by Thom in 2010 during and after a traffic dispute.
Judge Hornak gave him until late February to report to prison but warned him not to contact any witnesses in the case.
After his release, Thom will be on probation for three years.
Rich Lord: email@example.com or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. First Published January 16, 2014 3:08 PM