Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Officers defend their conduct in Jordan Miles case - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Two Pittsburgh police officers who have faced 21/2 years of questions about a three-minute encounter with Jordan Miles made spirited and sometimes combative defenses of their conduct at a civil trial Tuesday, as the case approached conclusion.

"I am not ashamed of anything that happened that night," said Officer Richard Ewing, referring to Jan. 12, 2010, when he and officers Michael Saldutte and David Sisak arrested Mr. Miles. "We were trained to use the least amount of force necessary to make that arrest" and that's what they did, he said.

Later, under cross-examination, Officer Ewing turned to the eight-member jury in obvious frustration. "He was never beat or beaten or attacked, as it has been phrased multiple times," he said.

Mr. Miles' team pinned their argument to the contrary on a phone record that shows the plaintiff talking on his cell at the beginning of the encounter, and on the fact that the officers' accounts have the young man turning, holding his pocket, reaching for his waist and otherwise behaving as if he was hiding a gun, when no gun was found.

"Can you tell me why Jordan Miles would've done all of those things as if he had a weapon," asked J. Kerrington Lewis, one of the plaintiff's attorneys, "when he didn't have a weapon?"

"Sir, you'd definitely need to ask your client that," Officer Ewing said.

U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster told the jury that testimony would end today or early Thursday, and they could deliberate on Friday. The trial is in its third week, and all three officers have now provided similar accounts of the incident on Homewood's frozen Tioga Street.

They have said they spotted Mr. Miles near a neighbor's house, identified themselves as police and asked him why he was there. He ran, elbowed Officer Saldutte, endured a tackle through a hedge by Officer Sisak and then kicked the latter in the knee, the officers have said.

After Mr. Miles kicked him in the knee, Officer Sisak said, "I didn't really get back into it until I heard Mike say, 'Gun.' "

He said he crawled over to where officers Saldutte and Ewing were struggling with Mr. Miles, and laid on the subject's back. He said that Officer Saldutte got a handcuff on one of Mr. Miles' hands, but then lost control of it.

"Mike says, 'I lost it. He's going for the gun,' " Officer Sisak testified. "He's going to pull out that gun, he's going to shoot me. ... I have a pregnant wife at home."

He said he punched Mr. Miles two or three times in the face. After a knee strike to the head by Officer Ewing stunned Mr. Miles, the officers handcuffed him.

The officers have all denied that anyone hit Mr. Miles after he was handcuffed.

Officer Ewing, 30, a former Marine Corps sergeant, said he watched Officer Saldutte search Mr. Miles. "I observed [Officer Saldutte] come up with a Mountain Dew bottle," he said. The officers have said they may have mistaken the bottle for a gun. Mr. Miles has said he didn't have a bottle.

Officer Sisak said he was concerned about the then-18-year-old's health.

"His breathing, his cardiac and respiratory system -- everybody else had come down to a baseline. [Mr. Miles] hadn't," he said. He ordered a police wagon to take him to a hospital, he said.

Cross-examination of Officer Ewing by Mr. Lewis focused on the times on the police report and dispatch documents, which seems to suggest that the incident started around 11 p.m., with a call for a wagon at 11:08 and a transport of Mr. Miles at 11:15.

A phone company record entered into evidence early in the trial indicates that Mr. Miles' cell was active until around 11:05 p.m. "At 11:05, he was on the telephone, correct?" Mr. Lewis asked Officer Ewing.

"Not with his hands," Officer Ewing said. "I'm 100 percent certain that there was not a phone in his hands."

Mr. Miles, now 20, was a student at Pittsburgh's School of Creative and Performing Arts when the incident occurred. He has testified that he was walking from his mother's house to his grandmother's house when an unmarked car pulled up and plainclothes police chased him down and beat him.

Federal and state prosecutors found insufficient evidence to charge the officers. Charges against Mr. Miles were dismissed at a preliminary hearing.

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