DA, FBI investigate stun gun use by Millvale police
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Three agencies are investigating a fall incident in which a Millvale police officer used a stun gun on a man.
The FBI, the Allegheny County district attorney's office and the Millvale police department are looking into what happened Sept. 21 and whether the officer wrongly stunned the handcuffed man in police custody. A video of the event surfaced this week.
"When our office is made aware of questions surrounding the use of force while someone is in custody, it is something that the district attorney wants to review," said Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.
Millvale solicitor Jack Cambest said an internal police department review, focusing on whether policy or procedure was violated, is separate from the district attorney's office and the FBI investigation, which will probe for criminal or civil rights offenses.
Pittsburgh attorney David Shrager said he received a single 53-second video clip via anonymous email Monday. He did not recognize the address and has not yet attempted to determine who sent it.
The clip shows a shirtless man, whom Mr. Shrager identified as Thomas Jason Smith, 27, of Millvale, handcuffed and sitting on the floor. Officers can be heard laughing in the background while Mr. Smith bangs his head on a desk partition several times before an officer drags him away and he is stunned.
"It didn't look like professional conduct to me," said Mr. Shrager, Mr. Smith's attorney.
Until Monday, details of what occurred that day had not been contradicted, Mr. Cambest said. The probe this week has raised questions about whether the video was altered.
"We believe that based on the ongoing investigation that the tape may have been shortened, Mr. Cambest said. "We believe there had been conduct on the part of Mr. Smith that may have been taken out of the video."
The video was captured by a part-time borough police officer who told Millvale investigators during a meeting Friday that he sent the video to an ex-borough employee.
The officer, whose name is not being released, denies altering the video, Mr. Cambest said.
Officer Nicole Murphy -- identified in court documents as using the stun gun on Mr. Smith -- has been disciplined for the incident but remains employed full time with the borough, Mr. Cambest said.
Mr. Smith's family has said he suffers from mental problems, according to Mr. Shrager, who also censured the officers for language used in the video.
"People that have disabilities are human beings, and when you start calling them names, it dehumanizes them," Mr. Shrager said.
Millvale police arrested Mr. Smith Sept. 21, charging him with a felony count of aggravated harassment by prisoner, a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest and two summary offenses: disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.
According to a police criminal complaint account by Officer Murphy, 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 that she dry stunned Mr. Smith "for officer safety and to gain control of the situation."
In November, Mr. Smith was arrested again for cocaine and weapon possession. He awaits a formal arraignment on the earlier charges Jan. 25.
Mr. Smith's family was unavailable for comment, said Mr. Shrager, who is speaking for the family.
Borough police Chief Derek Miller did not return repeated messages to his office.
First Published January 12, 2013 12:00 am