Miles testifies how Pittsburgh police officers beat him


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Two years, six months and one week after his nighttime encounter with Pittsburgh police on Homewood's Tioga Street, Jordan Miles was finally able to testify in court today at his civil trial alleging police brutality.

Officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak, who are accused of falsely arresting, beating and maliciously prosecuting Mr. Miles, sat rapt and watched his testimony from a row of chairs behind their attorneys.

After describing this morning his beating during an encounter with police on Jan. 12, 2010, Mr. Miles faced cross-examination this afternoon by by attorneys for the three officers. They pointed out inconsistencies in Mr. Miles' many accounts of the incident made to two city investigators, the FBI, various doctors and during a deposition. Mr. Miles, dressed in a white coat and purple shirt, repeatedly said he didn't recall making statements that were attributed to him in interviewers' reports.

The officers' attorneys zoomed in on his claim that he did not know the men were police officers until he was placed in a city wagon, and that he was never tackled into a bush, as the officers have claimed.

"Even though those three white men were trying to put handcuffs on you, you still thought you were being robbed and abducted?" asked an incredulous attorney James Wymard.

"Yes, I did," said Mr. Miles, who remained calm and never looked directly at the attorneys throughout the afternoon.

"What I am saying is, it was obvious they were police officers," Mr. Wymard said later.

"It was not obvious," Mr. Miles said. "I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't know of any cops that would behave in that manner."

Mr. Wymard asked how Mr. Miles could have ended up with at least two shards of twig embedded in his mouth when he claims to have been tackled and cuffed in a front yard, not in bushes.

"My face was forced into the ground" near a bush, he said.

As a final note, Mr. Wymard showed the jury pictures that Mr. Miles placed online during his mid-teen years in which he flexed, shirtless.

He posted them under the screen name "Bulky J."

"You wanted to show yourself to be bulky -- would you agree?" Mr. Wymard said.

"Yes, I did," Mr. Miles said.

On direct examination this morning, Mr. Miles testified that when uniformed officers arrived on the scene, "I thought they had come to my rescue." He was then placed into a police wagon, and taken to West Penn Hospital, where a piece of a branch was removed from his gums, he said. He did not testify as to how the branch got there.

From there, he went to the Allegheny County Jail.

"My head was throbbing in pain. I felt pain in both my eyes," as well as his arms, neck, back and legs, he said, in a monotone.

"Inmates told me that I had a big bald spot on the right side of my head," he said.

Upon release on the evening of Jan. 13, 2010, his mother "was screaming, 'Look what they did to my son,'" he said.

He continues to receive treatment for brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

"I've noticed a difference in my level of cognition," he said, "and my ability to recall and remember things.

"I cannot do a lot of things that I used to, for example, I used to run around and play football all the time," he said.

"Emotionally, I'm not the same as I used to be," he said, noting that he's withdrawn and quick to anger.

Two attempts at college have failed -- one because police arrested a fellow dormitory resident and that spooked him -- and he is now working two retail jobs for around $8 an hour, he said.

His attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, was admonished by the judge for asking too many leading questions. "Counselor, I will not tell you again: The witness has to testify, not you," said U.S. District Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster.

Initial cross-examination by attorney James Wymard, representing Officer Sisak, focused on whether Mr. Miles was prepped by his lawyers.

"They provided me with statements I said previously to refresh my recollection," Mr. Miles said. When Mr. Wymard implied that he was told how to answer, Mr. Miles said, "It wasn't like that."

Mr. Wymard also picked at a discrepancy between Mr. Miles' testimony today, and in a prior deposition. He said then that he heard "gunshots every day" in Homewood, but today said they didn't occur every day, "but I do hear gunshots."

Outside of the courthouse, around two dozen protesters from the Alliance for Police Accountability held a lunchtime rally.

"Once [police] get [a suspect] down, that's it, you question them," said Shanon Williams, a 23-year-old Brighton Heights resident with the North Side Initiative to Preserve Community Excellence. Police beat Mr. Miles, she said, and a civil trial "is a start, but then we're going to keep fighting until we get something," like a criminal prosecution by the state Attorney General's Office.

Earlier, Mr. Miles, 20, said that on the night of Jan. 12, 2010, he left his mother's house for his grandmother's, where he usually slept, around 11 p.m. He said he carried only his phone, on which he talked with a friend, a wallet, keys, iPod and Bluetooth device.

He walked in the street because the sidewalk was icy. A car came down the middle of Tioga toward him.

"It swerved into the right-hand lane, where I was walking, and it came to a complete stop," he said. The passengers, he said, were dressed darkly.

"I believed I was going to get hit," he said. "The car stopped. And I remember the driver's door and the passenger's door opened."

Three white males got out, he said. "And I heard, 'Where's your gun, money and drugs?'

"I immediately dropped the phone where I was standing. I turned around and tried to run home to my mother's house.

"I thought I was about to be robbed. ... I said, 'Chill, stop.'

"I was only able to get a couple of steps before I slipped on the sidewalk."

He said he broke his fall with his hands. Then someone "dived on to my back and began striking me on my head.

"It felt as if somebody was sitting on me who was heavy."

He said he clutched his new coat around him. "My coat was eventually ripped open."

Several times he managed to partly raise himself, he said, but he was always forced back on his stomach. "It felt as if I was being hit everywhere on my body at the same time."

Eventually his arms were wrenched behind him, he said. "I began to say my prayers."

But someone, he said, ordered him to "'shut up,' and forced my head into the snow. ... I was trying to remove my face from the snow because it was very difficult to breathe."

He said he prayed again, but was told, "'Didn't he say shut up?' And he pushed my face back into the snow."

He removed his head again, he said, and "was struck on the right side of my head by a very, very hard object. ... I gave up trying to get my head out of the snow."

Photographs taken after the incident showed Mr. Miles with severe facial swelling and missing hair that he claims officers pulled out during the incident. He is seeking damages for his injuries.

The trial will be the only airing of the most controversial police-civilian encounter since the 1995 death of Jonny Gammage, who died in a struggle with police in the South Hills after a traffic stop.

The judge ordered the eight-person jury to have lunch today inside the courthouse, apparently because of the protest outside.

The day began with testimony by Melissa Pearlman, principal at the city's Creative and Performing Arts school, who characterized Mr. Miles as an honors student, most of the time, and well behaved at all times.

The officers have said they clearly identified themselves, and sought to talk with Mr. Miles because he was loitering suspiciously around a dark house at night. They have said that when he ran, they mistook a bulge in his coat for a gun, and endured elbows and kicks in the process of handcuffing Mr. Miles.

Charges of aggravated assault, resisting arrest, escape and loitering against Mr. Miles were dismissed at a preliminary hearing. Neither U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton nor Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. found evidence to warrant the filing of criminal charges against the officers.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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