Officer Sisak: No excessive force in arrest of Jordan Miles

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Three Pittsburgh police officers continued to make the case today that they did nothing improper in arresting Jordan Miles as the civil trial stemming from a Jan. 12, 2010, incident on Homewood's frozen Tioga Street entered its eighth day of testimony.

Officer David Sisak, who along with colleagues Richard Ewing and Michael Saldutte has denied using excessive force during the arrest, continued testimony begun on Monday.

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.'"

His loyalty to his partners kicked in, he said.

"We didn't always get along and all that, but at the end of the day, I trust them with my life," he said.

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

"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," Officer Sisak said. "I have a pregnant wife at home."

Opting not to shoot Mr. Miles, he instead punched him two or three times in the face, Officer Sisak said. After a knee strike to the head by Officer Ewing stunned Mr. Miles and allowed the officers to handcuff him, Officer Sisak became concerned about the arrestee's health, he said.

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

Fearing that the arrestee was suffering from excited delirium -- a term of psychological origin not recognized by the American Medical Association -- he ordered a police wagon to take him to a hospital, he said.

Cross-examination by attorney Timothy O'Brien focused on small differences in Officer Sisak's accounts given to the city's Office of Municipal Investigations, the FBI and in deposition.

The officer became testy.

"You're taking my words and you're kind of twisting them around," he said.

Officer Sisak admitted that he initially had a poor view of Mr. Miles from the back seat of the officers' unmarked car with its tinted windows. He could not say with certainty whether Mr. Miles' coat was zipped up or open in the run-up to the melee. He said he never saw the bulge in Mr. Miles' pocket reported by Officer Saldutte, and mistaken for a gun but did see the young man clutching his pocket as he ran away.

Officer Ewing, 30, a former Marine Corps sergeant, testified this afternoon that he was also panicked when Officer Saldutte said that Mr. Miles was reaching for a gun.

"I've worked with Officer Saldutte for six years," Officer Ewing said. "I knew he was excited, and I knew that there was something wrong. ... It was a panicked tone. I was scared for my life and I was scared for my partners' lives."

He said that he hit Mr. Miles between the shoulder and ear with his knee, stunning him, and then he and Officer Saldutte were able to handcuff him.

He watched Officer Saldutte search Mr. Miles.

"I observed [Officer Saldutte] come up with a Mountain Dew bottle," he said.

He spent some time searching in the snow for a gun. None was ever found, and the officers have said they may have mistaken the bottle for a gun.

Mr. Miles has said that he didn't have a bottle or a gun.

Mr. Miles, now 20, was a student at Pittsburgh's school of Creative and Performing Arts that cold night. He testified nearly two weeks ago that he was walking from his mother's house, where he spends evenings, to his grandmother's house, where he sleeps, when an unmarked car pulled up and plainclothes police chased him down and beat him.

He said the beating included a knee strike to the head while he was prone, and a blow to the head from a hard object while he was handcuffed.

Federal and state prosecutors found insufficient evidence to charge the officers. Charges against Mr. Miles of aggravated assault, loitering, escape and resisting arrest were dismissed at a preliminary hearing.

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


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