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Jury: Millvale officer violated handcuffed prisoner’s rights

Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, November 19, 2014 1:57 p.m.
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A federal jury on Wednesday found Millvale police Officer Nicole Murphy violated the civil rights of a prisoner.
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James Knox | Trib Total Media
A federal jury found Nicole Murphy, a Millvale police officer, guilty of violating a handcuffed man's civil rights. Here, she makes her way into the federal courthouse, Downtown, on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014.

A federal jury deliberated less than four hours Wednesday before convicting Millvale police Officer Nicole Murphy of violating the civil rights of a man she shocked with a Taser at least three times while he was handcuffed and sitting on the floor of the police station.

Murphy left the courtroom without comment. Robert Stewart, her attorney, said they’ll start examining the trial record to prepare an appeal.

“We’re just extremely disappointed,” he said. “I don’t know what (the jurors) found so compelling.”

Jurors, as they left the federal courthouse, Downtown, declined to comment, as did Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cindy Chung and Carolyn Bloch.

Jack Cambest, Millvale’s solicitor, said the borough would have to wait to see what happens with any appeals of her conviction Murphy makes before it decides whether to fire her. She is suspended without pay.

Prosecutors said Murphy on Sept. 21, 2012, used the Taser at least three times on Thomas Jason James Smith without justification. Smith, who was 28 and living in Millvale at the time, was under arrest and subsequently pleaded guilty to public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.

Smith couldn’t be reached for comment.

Murphy, 30, of Shaler — who also goes by Nichole Murphy — could receive up to 10 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab scheduled her sentencing for March 13. She remains free on $25,000 bond.

Because the charge is a felony, the guilty verdict, if it stands, ends her law enforcement career — even if she avoids incarceration.

Millvale paid Smith $37,500 to settle a civil lawsuit. The borough manager and solicitor couldn’t be reached for comment.

Federal prosecutors argued that Murphy used the Taser on Smith because she was irritated by his obnoxious behavior.

Neither Murphy nor Smith testified during the trial.

Stewart said his client was attempting to stop Smith from banging his head against a desk and an office cubicle partition and had to do so because former Officer Casey Bonincontro was sitting in a chair laughing and recording the incident on his cellphone instead of trying to control Smith.

Prosecutors said Murphy changed her reasons for using the Taser in subsequent reports and an interview with investigators. She initially said she shocked Smith because he kicked her, then said it was to keep him from injuring himself and finally said it was because he was combative, kicked her, spat on Bonincontro and tried to attack him.

Bonincontro testified that Smith didn’t try to attack him.

A video Bonincontro made of the incident shows Smith scooting across the floor to bang his head on a 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.

Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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