A Pittsburgh police officer is under investigation for using a taser on a downtown pizza shop employee allegedly as a joke in October.
Surveillance video from Villa Reale Pizzeria and Restaurant shows Officer Ronald Hough shocking Dominic Reale with the weapon.
Reale’s attorney, Joel Sansone, said Hough had been sitting at the pizzeria with Reale for over an hour before discharging the taser into Reale’s chest. They had been eating pizza and joking around, according to Sansone.
Then, the video shows, Hough followed Reale once around a counter before firing the taser at him. Reale immediately collapsed on the floor. He tried to remove the taser’s electrified probes from his chest, but according to Sansone, they only electrocuted Reale again.
“My client gets shocked again,” Saccone said. “It went up his arm and into his head and down into his heart again, and he honestly thought he was going to die.”
To Sansone, the only possible explanation for Hough’s behavior is that the 23-year police veteran viewed it as a joke.
“I can’t speak for what would cause a trained public servant like this violate every known rule of engagement,” he said. “But I think he just got to the point where he felt like the rules didn’t apply to him.”
Sansone said that Hough visited Villa Reale many times before, and that a second video shows the officer pointing a taser at a man while he repaired the restaurant’s cash register. That episode occurred a week before Hough tased Reale, according to Sansone, and was allegedly meant as a joke.
The incident involving Reale became public after Sansone released the surveillance footage to the media this week. Reale wanted to avoid going public because, Sansone said, multiple officers urged him to stay quiet.
“There’s been a range of intimidating conduct from [the] friendly, ‘Come on, how about cutting the guy a break?’ to threats to demands that he erase the tape,” Sansone said. “The trauma that he originally felt [from the tasing] has been exacerbated by the constant intimidation and harassment by cops trying to, I guess, save their brother cop.”
But, Sansone explained, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette informed him and Reale that it would report the incident with or without his cooperation.
“We decided to take charge of the narrative to make sure that the truth came out,” Sansone said.
While Reale has not filed a complaint with the city or taken legal action, the Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety wrote in a statement that the Citizen Police Review Board and Office of Municipal Investigations (OMI) are both reviewing his case.
Sansone said his office will conduct its own investigation. While the Citizens Police Review Board is independent from the city, he is wary of the city’s investigation into its own personnel, like Hough, through OMI.
The attorney represented Jordan Miles in the high-profile use-of-force case against three Pittsburgh police officers, which settled in 2016.
“My experience tells me that ... their investigations have a tendency to exonerate the police officer rather than finding the truth,” Sansone said.