Their stories are night and day, and it's now up to a jury to make the call on what happened between three Pittsburgh police officers and Jordan Miles, a civil case that is being closely watched by law enforcement and city neighborhood activists.
Closing arguments were held Thursday in the three-week-long trial stemming from the Jan. 12, 2010, encounter between Mr. Miles, then 18, and officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak. The jury must decide whether the officers unlawfully arrested, unnecessarily beat and maliciously prosecuted Mr. Miles, and if so, whether they should be tagged with a verdict for compensatory and punitive damages that the city would then pay.
"I think this case sends a message to our police and our community about what is acceptable conduct by our officers," said Brandi Fisher, chairwoman of the Alliance for Police Accountability. "What happened to Jordan Miles is not acceptable," and a verdict could cement that, she said.
The officers, said Fraternal Order of Police past president James Malloy, "already paid a hell of a price: 2 1/2 years of this hanging over their heads."
"We think they did the right thing," he added.
U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster told the jury to view events through the eyes of a reasonably objective police officer. The officers' attorneys said their clients were eminently reasonable.
Noticing a man lurking next to a house at 11 p.m. on a cold night, they questioned him, said attorney James Wymard, representing Officer Sisak. Seeing Mr. Miles' hand in his pocket, his sideways stance and a bulge in his coat, they thought he might be armed. Watching him bolt, they assumed he was up to no good. And enduring an elbow to Officer Saldutte's head and a kick to Officer Sisak's knee, they made an arrest using only the force necessary.
"What they're doing at every step here is what they were trained to do," said attorney Bryan Campbell, representing Officer Saldutte. Mr. Miles, meanwhile, "was doing everything he could to fight them off."
J. Kerrington Lewis, representing Mr. Miles, told the jury that the officers' version has his client "operating like a drug-dealing, armed thug that they see every day on the streets."
Instead, he was a B student at Pittsburgh's school for Creative and Performing Arts, a viola player who had never been in trouble. But the officers, he said, "thought that he was some black, drug-dealing punk and were going to take him down, and they took him down."
They handcuffed Mr. Miles, he said, and didn't stop there, choking and then striking him when he tried to pray -- an accusation the officers have repeatedly, vehemently denied.
Officer Sisak's flashlight was lost in the snow during the incident, Mr. Lewis reminded the jury. "They deny hitting him with that flashlight after he was handcuffed," he said. "I submit to you that that flashlight -- black, long, in the snow -- was not lost" but concealed.
Mr. Miles' legal team has put much stock in a call log that shows him on his cell phone at 11:05 p.m., saying that proves the officers lied when they said he had nothing in his hands as they approached. The officers' attorneys countered Thursday that he may have been using a Bluetooth earpiece that was later found in the snow.
The officers' attorneys said that pulled-out dreadlocks hanging on a broken hedge, combined with twigs embedded in Mr. Miles' mouth, prove their version -- that Officer Sisak tackled him through a bush, causing most of his injuries. Mr. Miles has denied any recollection of a tumble through the shrubbery.
"Maybe [Mr. Miles'] head was into the bushes by then as he tried to crawl and get away," his attorney, Mr. Lewis, said. And if they crashed through the foliage together, he asked, why wasn't Officer Sisak scratched?
Medical testimony indicates that the 20-year-old man may never recover from post-traumatic stress syndrome and brain injury, Mr. Lewis said.
Robert Leight, representing Officer Ewing, told the jury to disregard an economist's estimate that Mr. Miles lost perhaps $1 million in future earnings potential if the injury, as Mr. Miles has claimed, made him unable to attend college. The jury consists of five men -- four white, one African-American -- and three white women. They must try to reach a unanimous verdict. They deliberated for about two hours Thursday, will resume this morning and then continue Monday, if necessary.