Jury finds officers did not maliciously prosecute Jordan Miles

Retrial expected on other charges


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Pittsburgh police officers did not maliciously prosecute Jordan Miles, a civil jury found Wednesday, but it could not decide whether they falsely arrested the young Homewood man or used excessive force against him, setting up a retrial on those accusations.

After a courtroom deputy read out the jury's decision, officers Richard Ewing and Michael Saldutte strode silently to U.S. Courthouse elevators as their attorneys declared victory. They still crave full, final vindication, said Robert Leight, attorney for Officer Ewing.

"They're very disappointed," that the jury couldn't reach a complete verdict, Mr. Leight said. "They're happy the jury found in their favor on count three. ... They want to be vindicated on the other two counts."

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They will get that opportunity as soon as District Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster can get a retrial scheduled.

"I believe this is a viable case and I told [Mr. Miles] to keep his head up," said J. Kerrington Lewis, who has been the plaintiff's attorney since shortly after the Jan. 12, 2010, incident that sparked the case. The verdict "really doesn't address the key issue, which was whether the force was excessive."

The third officer, David Sisak, did not attend the reading of the verdict. None of the officers would comment. Nor would Mr. Miles, 20, or his mother, Terez Miles, who looked particularly deflated after leaving the courtroom.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl issued a statement in which he said he didn't believe there is anyone in Pittsburgh, "myself included, who doesn't wish the events on January 12, 2010, did not occur."

"This process has been difficult for all of us, especially for officers Ewing, Saldutte and Sisak, Mr. Miles and their families. We must continue to work together to strengthen relationships between our police officers, who risk their lives each and every day for us, and the people they are sworn to protect and serve."

Mr. Miles testified in the trial's first week that he was walking from his mother's house to his grandmother's when an unmarked car pulled up, and plainclothes officers jumped out and beat and arrested him for no reason.

He was charged with two counts of aggravated assault for elbowing and kicking the officers, as well as with escape, resisting arrest and loitering. Those charges were dismissed by a district judge, clearing the way for the malicious prosecution count that ultimately failed.

"I think in malicious prosecution, you have the element of maliciousness," which is hard to prove, said Mr. Lewis.

The officers testified in the trial's second week that they identified themselves as police, got no answer as to why Mr. Miles was sneaking around at night, thought a bulge in his coat was a gun and chased him when he ran. When they caught him, he fought, and they used only enough force to handcuff him, they said.

It was unclear how the jury voted on the false arrest and excessive force counts, and that will never become part of the public record. Jurors who were approached while leaving the courthouse would not speak to reporters.

Deciding whether the officers made reasonable decisions when approaching, tackling, punching and kneeing Mr. Miles, as they admitted doing, was no doubt difficult, attorneys for both sides agreed.

"Their versions of the incident were like night and day," said Bryan Campbell, the attorney for Officer Saldutte. "It's obvious the jury believed the officers' version."

Judge Lancaster had the jury brought into the courtroom shortly after 2 p.m. He asked the foreman, a man who was the panel's lone African-American, whether they were at an impasse on two of the counts.

"Yes, we are hopelessly deadlocked, your honor," the foreman said.

Courtroom Deputy Michael Palus then read the verdict slip asking whether the officers "violated [Mr. Miles'] Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting him to malicious prosecution? Answer: No."

"This would be a major win," said attorney James Wymard, representing Officer Sisak, minutes after the verdict was read. "I'm really ready for it to go the next time."

It could go differently next time, said Timothy O'Brien, the second attorney for Mr. Miles.

"There was significant evidence the jury didn't hear in this case," said Mr. O'Brien, including "allegations of similar past abuse" by some of the officers. He said that the plaintiff's team wasn't able, for instance, to introduce allegations that the officers had failed to identify themselves as police in other arrests.

Generally, Judge Lancaster's decisions on what was and wasn't admissible evidence in the first trial will govern any second trial, said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff. There's no reason to believe a second trial will be any easier for the plaintiff, he said.

"Certainly, the plaintiff is at a disadvantage because, one, he's already lost on one of his counts, and two, he didn't successfully persuade a jury on the others," he said.

It's common for attorneys on both sides to reach out to jurors after a mistrial due to a hung jury, Mr. Burkoff said.

"If Miles discovers that only one or two jurors were leaning toward him and all the rest against, that's not a very good prospect for a retrial," he said. "But if it's the opposite, then maybe he can lay the blame on one or two jurors and hope not to pick people like that next time."

Because Mr. Miles claimed that he suffered brain damage and psychological trauma from blows to the head, and saw a $1 million reduction in his lifetime earning capacity, a seven-figure verdict was conceivable.

The city would be obligated to pay any verdict against its officers. Last year the city offered Mr. Miles $180,000 to settle all claims, but he declined. Later the city paid him $75,000 to settle only the claims that the city was negligent in training and supervising its officers.

"Certainly, we made efforts to resolve this case," said city Solicitor Dan Regan. "The basis of those efforts was never that we believed that there was wrongdoing on the part of our officers, but we were trying to make prudent decisions, decisions that were in the best interests of the city."

He said the city has always backed the officers in the case.

Mr. Wymard said the officers never wanted to settle. Similarly, Mr. Miles decided that he would rather have the jury make the call, according to Mr. Lewis.

New settlement talks could ensue, Mr. Burkoff said, but "the plaintiff doesn't have a whole lot of leverage right now in settlement discussions." Nor is there any reason to believe the officers would back a settlement. "There's every chance that the officers will think, 'Hey, we didn't do anything wrong, they couldn't convince a jury, why should we settle?' "

Mr. Campbell said the city's 860 officers can go to work today with confidence that they won't be punished for solid, plainclothes policing.

"These officers are not out there answering [911] calls for service," he said. "They're proactively out there trying to stop crime. ... And that was really on trial here."

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. First Published August 9, 2012 4:00 AM


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