Tasered at his own home: the Shawn Hicks story
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When Shawn Hicks returned to his North Braddock home on Stokes Avenue after a Saturday night out on the town with friends, he didn't bother turning on the lights.
Instead of heading to his bedroom, Mr. Hicks, a 29-year-old business major at Point Park University, plopped himself face down and fully dressed on his cream-colored leather sofa in his living room. He also neglected to deactivate his home security system, which has a silent alarm.
Surrounded by the darkness and familiar comforts of his home, Mr. Hicks was asleep within five minutes. He didn't know it at the time, but he was not destined to have sweet dreams that night.
"I felt a lot of voltage going through my body," Mr. Hicks said recalling the events of that late July weekend. "That's what woke me up."
Jumping to his feet, Mr. Hicks was aware of an intense sensation between the shoulder blades of his 150-pound body. It didn't stop there. His whole body felt as if it were on fire.
When his eyes finally adjusted to the light, his heart skipped yet another beat. Two North Braddock police officers, Gerard Kraly and Lukas Laeuricia, were standing in his living room. To this day, Mr. Hicks still doesn't know which is Kraly and which Laeuricia.
The shorter of the two officers did most of the talking. His mustached partner was a burly over-6-footer in his late 30s or early 40s. He held the Taser, the prongs of which were sticking in Mr. Hicks' back.
The polite family newspaper version of what Mr. Hicks said in response to being electrified translates roughly as "What's going on here?"
The shorter cop, whom Mr. Hicks remembers as blond, asked him to calm down. The officer said that North Braddock police received a call from the security company monitoring Mr. Hicks' home. They believed a break-in was in progress.
The cops had entered the home, turned on the light and found Mr. Hicks asleep on the sofa. If they identified themselves or ordered him to get up, Mr. Hicks said he did not hear it. He said he wasn't aware of their presence until he was shot in the back with a Taser.
According to Mr. Hicks, the cops were skeptical. "How do we know that you're who you say you are?" the shorter of the two cops asked.
At that point, the cop holding the Taser squeezed the trigger, sending Mr. Hicks into paroxysm of agony. It was not a short jolt like the first one he received. He fell to the floor. His screams woke the neighbors.
"What do you want?" Mr. Hicks asked. "Please stop [shooting] me." The shorter cop helped him to his feet. Swaying unsteadily, he offered to show them his identification. They searched him and found his wallet. After inspecting it, they threw the wallet on the coffee table.
"I told you I lived here and that I'm the legal resident," he shouted, believing he finally had justice, common decency and the angels of heaven on his side. A staff member at the African-American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania, Mr. Hicks counts himself on the side of the law-abiding citizen.
The cop with the Taser squeezed the trigger again, anyway. Mr. Hicks flapped his arms wildly, but didn't fall. All he could do was scream loud enough to be heard all over the Mon Valley.
After removing the pellets from his bloody back, the cops handcuffed Mr. Hicks and led him out his front door to a police van. They did not read him his rights, Mr. Hicks says. The back of his shirt was soaked with warm, sticky blood.
Meanwhile, cops from six neighboring boroughs searched the house for other "burglars."
Mr. Hicks' mother, Arlene, arrived just as her son was being escorted out the door. She had Mr. Hicks' 11-year-old daughter and a niece in tow. "Why are you arresting my son?" she asked. The taller of the two cops answered that he "didn't have to tell her anything."
When Mrs. Hicks persisted, he said her son was being arrested for "being belligerent."
In the van, Mr. Hicks said he told the cops he needed medical attention. He says they told him he would wind up in county lockup if he insisted on it. "Never mind," Mr. Hicks said.
Mr. Hicks sat in a holding cell until 5 a.m. The cops returned. "We're not filing charges," they told him. "You're free to go, but if you get into trouble in the next year, we will file charges."
Mr. Hicks staggered into the parking lot and began walking the 10 minutes to the Braddock hospital, refusing another officer's offer of a ride home. He was examined and released that morning. Mr. Hicks filed a detailed police complaint the following Monday, but the case didn't come to public attention until the New Pittsburgh Courier's front-page story last week.
The North Braddock police department referred inquiries to the borough solicitor, John Bacharach, but he declined to give the officers' side of the story. "I know about the incident," Mr. Bacharach told me. "I don't want to comment because I am not confident enough in the facts to say one way or the other." He promised that "the matter will be investigated."
Mr. Hicks will be moving forward with his legal strategy if he doesn't hear from North Braddock soon. You don't have to be Johnnie Cochran to know what's going to happen next.
First Published September 11, 2007 12:00 am