Police officer, resident testify about altercation in Jordan Miles civil trial
March 17, 2014 11:24 PM
Richard Ewing enters the Federal Courthouse in Pittsburgh early Wednesday morning before he is scheduled to testify in the Jordan Miles civil trial.
By Rich Lord / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Patricia D. Coleman was the first person to view the scene of the encounter between Jordan Miles and three police officers by daylight, but her account of it in court Monday cast shadows on both sides' stories.
Ms. Coleman, a secretary who has lived on Homewood's Tioga Street "on and off" since the late 1970s, said that on the night of Jan. 12, 2010, she heard three cries for help outside of her home, but did not stir.
When she left home the next morning for work, she saw "blood and hair on my walkway," she told the jury and U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone.
Mr. Miles is seeking damages for injuries he says were caused when three men who didn't identify themselves as police confronted him on the street and beat him. The officers say he was lurking between houses, ran when they identified themselves and they thought something in his pocket was a gun, so they used necessary force to subdue him.
Ms. Coleman said she saw broken hedges, a cable TV wire sagging and footprints all around, including some beside her house.
To attorneys for Pittsburgh officers David Sisak and Michael Saldutte and former city officer Richard Ewing, that account supported their version of the events behind the second civil trial.
The officers have claimed they saw Mr. Miles between two houses, questioned him, saw a bulge in his pocket and chased him when he ran. They claim that Officer Sisak tackled him through the hedge, and that dreadlocks he lost ripped free as he went through the branches.
The cries for help, though, back Mr. Miles' contention that he was beaten by men he didn't know to be officers.
Mr. Miles' lawyers also suggested that police removed and then returned evidence to the scene. Ms. Coleman said that two dreadlocks that lay on her sidewalk were gone when she returned that night.
Photos taken two weeks later by an Office of Municipal Investigations detective showed two dreadlocks back in that spot. But photos taken two days after that by police crime scene Detective Lisa McCoy showed two notably different dreadlocks there.
Plaintiff's attorney Joel Sansone said after the testimony that police seem to have recreated the scene. The officers' attorneys scoffed at the suggestion.
Officer Ewing, who now works for McCandless, maintained the defense theory that Mr. Miles may have had a gun, though he found none in approximately 20 minutes of searching.
"And despite that search, you found no weapon, correct?" Mr. Sansone asked.
"Correct," Mr. Ewing said.
"One or more of you had continuous eyesight on my client," Mr. Sansone said. "You never saw my client discharge anything from out of his pockets, did you?"
"I did not," Officer Ewing said.
"Did you warn any of the neighbors that there might be a gun present?" Mr. Sansone asked.
"If I had seen a gun being thrown ... I probably would have," Officer Ewing said.
Mr. Sansone asked Officer Ewing if he was "ashamed" of his handling of the incident, and whether he would handle similar circumstances differently today.
"I would do it the exact same way," Officer Ewing said.
The day's testimony closed with accounts of doctors who treated Mr. Miles after the encounter, and found swelling, bruising, scrapes and twigs embedded in his gums, but no fractures.
Proceedings began on March 11 before U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone. The trial is a repeat of one in 2012, when most jurors found for the officers but they were not unanimous, resulting in a mistrial.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. First Published March 17, 2014 10:24 AM