For police, vindication; for others, disbelief

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The chairwoman of the Alliance for Police Accountability observed much of the Jordan Miles civil trial as it unfolded in U.S. District Court.

And, like many neighborhood activists monitoring the case, she was hopeful jurors would understand what to her had always seemed clear: A young man who was doing nothing wrong ended up unrecognizable after an unprovoked assault by three Pittsburgh police officers.

Why, Brandi Fisher wondered Wednesday, could eight of her peers not agree?

"For anyone to hear that and not find the officers guilty of excessive force either has to be racist or completely oblivious to the fact that bad police officers do exist and it has been proven throughout history," Ms. Fisher said.

A jury after days of deliberation found that Officers Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing did not maliciously prosecute Mr. Miles but could not agree on whether they falsely arrested and abused him. The outcome stirred emotions but brought those who had been watching the case since it began 21/2 years ago no closer to a consensus about what happened on a darkened Homewood street on Jan. 12, 2010.

The partial verdict "vindicated what our understanding about the incident was all along, that the officers acted professionally and without malice," Sgt. Mike LaPorte, president of the city's police union, said.

In a written statement issued later Wednesday, he added, "While Mr. Miles has been presented by his attorneys and by some community groups as being a 'good kid,' what Jordan Miles did on that cold night in Homewood was at first suspicious and then downright criminal." While officers were not happy that the case landed in federal court, Sgt. LaPorte said, "The law enforcement community has once again had their faith in the legal system reconfirmed."

City solicitor Dan Regan, also in the courtroom for many of the long days of testimony, shared the sergeant's sentiment.

"We believed and have always maintained that our officers acted as reasonably, well-trained officers under the circumstances," he said. "The jury had the opportunity to hear all of the evidence and they came to the same conclusion in regard to one of the allegations."

Police Chief Nate Harper declined to comment on the case, and officers Saldutte and Ewing, the only two present in the courtroom when the decision was announced, said they were not allowed to talk about it. Sgt. LaPorte said they were eager to focus on their families and careers, as the trial had been taxing on them.

Others who were gripped to the case's twists and turns said the outcome was hardly a victory for anyone involved.

"The fact that the jurors spent 41/2 days on deliberations means that it wasn't a slam dunk for either side," said Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project. "It shows how difficult these cases are to pursue, particularly when there's no video to show exactly what happened."

In communities like Homewood, anger was brewing, Ms. Fisher said. "From all I am hearing, the community is outraged," she said.

M. Gayle Moss, president of the Pittsburgh National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also felt disbelief. She said she didn't think the jury had a hard decision before them.

"It's something that has me in awe," she said. "Here's a kid who is going to be damaged for life who has never bothered anybody. It doesn't seem fair."

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, declined to comment on the verdict but said her agency has launched its own probe into the incident that will focus on broader issues in law enforcement stemming from the case. She said it will likely include a review of certain city police policies and procedures.

Mr. Stevens said he hoped officers would not interpret the verdict as "an opportunity to behave in an inappropriate and unprofessional manner." Instead, he hoped officers and city officials would view the case as an opportunity to explore how police interact with the public, particularly in minority communities.

"You have basically a white police force interfacing with young black men, neither of whom are very aware of each other," he said.

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