Officer pleads not guilty in stun gun rights case
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A police officer pleaded not guilty Tuesday to violating a suspect's rights during an arrest caught on cellphone video that showed her repeatedly zapping him with a stun gun, even after he was handcuffed.
An attorney for Millvale Officer Nicole Murphy doesn't dispute that his client used a stun gun on Thomas Jason James Smith after his arrest for public drunkenness in September 2012. Rather, he contends that Murphy was justified in using it because she was trying to stop Smith from banging his head.
"This guy was out of control. They believed he was on some other kind of substance," Stewart said after Murphy's arraignment before a federal magistrate. "She had a choice of Tasering him to subdue him or letting him split his head open."
Murphy was indicted June 4 on a charge of violating Smith's civil rights while acting under the color of law. The criminal investigation and charges came after a 52-second cellphone video of the arrest was leaked to some Pittsburgh-area media outlets in early 2013.
The video shows a shirtless Smith, then 28, sitting on the floor of the police station while he banged his head on the edge of a desk and Murphy then zapping him with the stun gun. Murphy reported in a criminal complaint that she used the stun gun to subdue Smith when he became violent, but Smith isn't seen attacking her in the video.
The video also shows some emergency responders smiling and laughing at Smith's behavior.
Stewart said he believes another officer recorded the arrest, raising questions about the nature of Murphy's response.
"If he was so offended by what was going on, you have believed he would have stepped in and stopped it," Stewart said.
Smith was charged with aggravated harassment by a prisoner — a felony — and lesser charges. The most serious charges were dropped, and he eventually pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and public drunkenness and was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
He settled a lawsuit against the borough for $37,500 a few days after Murphy was indicted.
Millvale conducted an internal investigation to determine whether police regulations were violated by the recording of the video and by what it depicted. The investigation also looked into how Smith was treated.
Solicitor Jack Cambest previously said Murphy was disciplined and retrained for her use of the stun gun, but she was not suspended.
Murphy, a single mother who worked part time for the borough of Millvale, was taken off the schedule after her indictment. She was also suspended from her job as a county 911 dispatcher, Stewart said.
Stewart maintained his client acted properly and said a jury will come to the same conclusion.
"We will have a use-of-force expert who will say she did nothing wrong," Stewart said.
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