Jury: Millvale officer violated handcuffed prisoner’s rights |

Jury: Millvale officer violated handcuffed prisoner’s rights

A federal jury on Wednesday found Millvale police Officer Nicole Murphy violated the civil rights of a prisoner.
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 [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.