If a Millvale police officer thought a handcuffed suspect was a risk to himself or others when she shocked him with a Taser, she would have put him in shackles afterward or taken other steps to eliminate that danger, a federal prosecutor argued Tuesday.
Since Officer Nicole Murphy was simply irritated with Thomas Jason James Smith’s obnoxious behavior, she walked back to her desk and resumed doing her paperwork, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Cindy Chung.
“She just snapped,” Chung told a federal jury in closing arguments on the second day of the government’s prosecution of Murphy. The jury will start deliberations Wednesday.
The government contends Murphy used the Taser at least three times on Smith without justification, violating his civil rights.
Murphy didn’t testify during the trial. Her attorney, Robert Stewart, told jurors that she didn’t need to.
“She has no burden to say one thing,” he said. “She did not even have a burden to put one person on the stand.”
Murphy, 30, of Shaler — who also goes by Nichole Murphy — pleaded not guilty to violating the civil rights of Smith.
She faces up to 10 years in prison. Because the charge is a felony, a guilty verdict would end her law enforcement career — even if she avoids jail.
Millvale paid Smith $37,500 to settle a civil lawsuit. The borough suspended Murphy without pay pending the outcome of the criminal case.
Murphy and former Officer Casey Bonincontro arrested Smith on charges of public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Bonincontro removed him from the police station’s holding cell when Smith started banging his head against the cement wall and put him on the floor in the center of the patrol room.
A video Bonincontro filmed of the incident shows Smith scooting across the floor to bang his head on a plastic office cubicle partition. Once an emergency medical technician pulls him away from the partition, he scoots back, and Murphy, at her desk, brandishes a Taser. When he starts banging his head again, she walks over and shocks him.
In subsequent reports about what happened, Murphy initially said she used the Taser because Smith kicked her, then she said she did it to stop him from hurting himself and finally said that Smith was becoming increasingly combative, kicking her and trying to attack Bonincontro, Chung said.
While the prosecution argued that the elaborations show that Murphy was trying to justify her actions, Stewart argued that she wasn’t under investigation when she filled out those reports and had no reason to lie.
The emergency medical technicians called to the station to evaluate Smith testified that they saw him kick Murphy, but one said he kicked her after she used the Taser the first time. The other said he couldn’t remember whether the kick was before or after Murphy used the Taser.
Keith Singleton, who works for Ross/West View Emergency Medical Services, testified that the two police officers, he and the other paramedics and Smith bantered back and forth for most of the 50 minutes he was at the police station.
He couldn’t recall Smith trying to attack anyone beyond that kick, Singleton said.
He verified that, at one point, Murphy said she wasn’t going to end up having to take Smith to the hospital because of the head banging but couldn’t say that is why she used the Taser.
“She was definitely frustrated,” he said. “I can’t say why she was frustrated.”
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or [email protected].