PITTSBURGH - A Millvale police officer has pleaded not guilty to a charge that she violated a man's rights by repeatedly using a stun gun on him while he was handcuffed.
The attorney for 30-year-old Nicole Murphy doesn't dispute that Murphy used the Taser on Thomas Jason James Smith after his arrest for public drunkenness in September 2012.
Rather, defense attorney Robert Stewart said Murphy was justified in using the stun gun because Smith continued to bang his head against a desk and she was trying to stop him from hurting himself saying, "She had a choice of Tasering him to subdue him or letting him split his head open."
Murphy was indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh earlier this month, officials said, on charges of deprivation of rights under color of law.
U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton announced the indictment, saying that Murphy deprived an individual of his rights.
The indictment states, “According to the indictment, on Sept. 21, 2012, Nicole Murphy, while acting under color of law as a police officer with the Millvale Police Department, deprived an individual identified as T.S. of the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizure, by deploying a Taser in both drive and probe-stun modes on T.S.'s person while he was handcuffed.”
“He suffered injuries to arms and back and some nerve damage as well as psychological issues that he was confronted with,” said Thomas Smith’s attorney David Shrager.
Channel 11 News first reported this story in January 2012, when video of the incident surfaced.
Months later, the man who was handcuffed spoke to WPXI-TV, saying he didn’t remember much from the incident.
According to the station's police officers, Smith, who was arrested on charges of fighting, was shocked with a stun gun after banging his head on the cell wall, spitting on, and attacking police officers. The police report said Smith kicked an officer in the chest and arm area.
"Them Tasers don't feel good. For someone who has never been [shocked with a stun gun] in their life, it hurts. It's like a bolt of electricity going straight through your body," said Smith.
The report said officers said they used the stun gun on Smith in order to obtain control over the situation.
Shrager said his client suffers from mental illness and thinks the use of the stun gun went too far.
If convicted, Murphy could be sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison and be fined $250,000.
“Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant,” a news release issued Wednesday stated.
The indictment comes after an FBI investigation into the case.