Accused officers get their chance in Jordan Miles civil trial

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The three accused Pittsburgh police officers began making their case today on the sixth day of testimony in the Jordan Miles civil trial.

Mr. Miles' team has spent the past week trying to convince an eight-member jury that officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak chased him down and beat him, before and after he was handcuffed, on Homewood's Tioga Street on Jan. 12, 2010. Mr. Miles is seeking damages for lingering injuries as a result of the beating.

The officers claim he ran when they approached him to ask why he was cowering between two houses and they used force when resisted arrest when they caught him.

Officer Saldutte, 30, told the jury this afternoon that he was working that night in a plainclothes duty in an unmarked Monte Carlo at around 11 p.m., when he saw a man leaning up against 7940 Tioga St.

"It was a figure, person in dark clothing, almost like they're hiding, up against the house," he said. "We're in a high-crime area. It's the middle of a snow storm. ¬タᆭ No one else is out.

"We decided to turn around and investigate."

They came to a stop around 20 or 30 feet from the man, later identified as Mr. Miles, as he came out of the yard alongside a Jeep.

Mr. Miles "turned his body slightly away from me," which is sometimes a sign that a subject is hiding a gun, Officer Saldutte said. "I believe Officer Ewing said, 'Pittsburgh police.'"

Officer Saldutte said he stood shielded by the passenger door of the car, holding up the badge that was on a chain around his neck. He told Mr. Miles to take his hand out of his pocket, which he did. He asked Mr. Miles if 7940 Tioga was his house, and he said it wasn't.

"I was able to see that he had a bulge in his right front pocket where a few seconds earlier he had his right hand," Officer Saldutte said.

He asked Mr. Miles why he was "sneaking around someone's house." Mr. Miles "turned and started walking away.

"I looked in the car and said, 'He's going to go on us,'" the officer said, and Mr. Miles "took off running."

Officer Saldutte said he gave chase, yelling, "Pittsburgh police, stop! Pittsburgh police, stop!" Mr. Miles tried to turn left and slipped on ice, and "pretty much landed on the ground.

"I wanted to, one, see if he was armed, and two, investigate what he was doing."

Mr. Miles tried to rise, Officer Saldutte said, prompting him to grab the back of the young man's jacket and wrap his arm around the subject's chest. Mr. Miles, the officer said, then elbowed him in the head, causing him to lose his grip, and pulled forward, causing the officer to stumble. Mr. Miles ran, Officer Saldutte said.

Officer Sisak then fired his Taser, which didn't work.

"Officer Sisak pretty much tackled him, pushed him, to the ground," over garbage cans and through bushes, Officer Saldutte said. A struggle then ensued in which the three officers tried to get Mr. Miles handcuffed. Officer Saldutte thought he was trying to reach for the hard object in his pocket and yelled, "I think he's got a gun!" he said.

"He started screaming, 'Don't take me to jail! Just let me go home!'" Officer Saldutte testified.

Officer Saldutte said began kneeing Mr. Miles in the side, and a knee to the head by Officer Ewing allowed them to get the cuffs on the subject.

Officer Saldutte then found the Mountain Dew bottle, he said, and tossed it aside.

"He probably did have a gun on him," Officer Saldutte said, prompting objections from Mr. Miles' legal team. No gun was ever found, despite a lengthy search of the snow.

Officer Saldutte said that Monica Wooding, the resident of 7940 Tioga, then said that no one had permission to be around her property. Ms. Wooding has said that the officers never showed her Mr. Miles, nor asked her whether she knew him.

On cross-examination, J. Kerrington Lewis, representing Mr. Miles, asked Officer Saldutte if he expected the jury to believe that "this honor student, this kid that has never been in trouble with the law, had suddenly turned into a cat burglar" who was hiding a gun. "Did you even consider, did it occur to you, that you were startling, or putting fear into [Mr. Miles]?"

Officer Saldutte said that did not occur to him.

The officers started their defense with David Wright, the police bureau's lead defensive tactics instructor. He regularly reviews incidents in which officers use deadly force.

"The difficult part of police work is the officer has to make quick decisions," he told the jury. "If the officer doesn't make a quick decision, their life may be taken."

Mr. Lewis used the opportunity to demonstrate that the officers are well-trained fighters, and to suggest that the officers should have had no trouble subduing the much-smaller man.

Officer Wright owns a gym, he testified, where Officer Saldutte teaches the Israeli martial art krav maga. Officer Ewing, Mr. Lewis said, studied martial arts for four years in the Marines.

"You do not strike or use force on a subject that is under control, in custody and not able to resist," said Mr. Lewis. "Isn't that the Golden Rule?"

"Yes, sir," said Officer Wright.

Officer Wright reviewed the use of force against Mr. Miles as part of the city's Office of Municipal Investigations probe. Mr. Lewis, after the trial recessed for lunch, called his testimony "a fox-in-the-henhouse kind of thing."

The officers have said that they thought Mr. Miles was snooping around a house and tried to question him, but he ran. They said they mistook a Mountain Dew bottle for a gun, used force only because he resisted and stopped when he was handcuffed.

Mr. Miles testified last week that he was not near the house, the officers didn't identify themselves and he had no bottle.

Charges against Mr. Miles of aggravated assault, loitering, resisting arrest and escape were dismissed at a preliminary hearing. No criminal charges were filed against the officers, and the police bureau found no cause to discipline them.

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Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542. First Published July 26, 2012 11:30 AM


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