Last of three officers testifies in Jordan Miles civil case
March 18, 2014 11:26 PM
Michael Saldutte, left, and Richard Ewing arrive in front of the Federal Courthouse in Pittsburgh early Wednesday morning before they are scheduled to testify in the Jordan Miles civil trial.
By Rich Lord and Liz Navratil / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The arrest of Jordan Miles wasn't by the book, at least according to the police procedures described by a Pittsburgh police commander called to testify in the civil trial pitting the Homewood man against three officers.
"We do not train officers to punch in the head," said Cmdr. RaShall Brackney, who was subpoenaed to testify by Mr. Miles' attorneys, and smilingly addressed the jury for most of Tuesday afternoon. "You're probably going to do more damage to your hand as opposed to that head."
Similarly, knee strikes to the head are "not taught," the commander said. "Knee strikes to a suspect's head would be considered deadly force."
Cmdr. Brackney was barred from offering opinions on the conduct of officers David Sisak, Michael Saldutte and Richard Ewing, who often shook their heads as she talked about policies and procedures. Though she ran Zone 5, which includes Homewood, at one time in her 30-year career, she was in her current post in Zone 1, serving the North Side, by the time of the Jan. 12, 2010, arrest of Mr. Miles.
In that arrest, the officers have said they saw Mr. Miles between two houses, identified themselves, questioned him, thought they saw a bulge in his pocket, and then gave chase.
According to their accounts, Officer Saldutte tried to grab Mr. Miles from behind, but was felled by an elbow to the head. Officer Sisak has said he tackled Mr. Miles through a bush, went down after taking a donkey kick to the knee, and then punched the subject three times in the head. And Officer Ewing has said his knee strikes to Mr. Miles' head or neck finally subdued the struggling man, who seemed to have a hard object in a coat pocket.
Mr. Miles, now 22, had just turned 18.
Cmdr. Brackney testified that tackling isn't recommended because the officer's hands can get caught under the subject.
"It's much simpler to push when someone is running from you, to put them off balance," she said. She noted that though she's "not very big, I can push you, and have a lot more force, than when I'm tackling you."
Though she said punches and knees to the head aren't part of officer training, she conceded on cross-examination that procedures allow officers to use their hands, knees, elbows and feet in their defense. They are allowed to use deadly force "if there was a good faith belief" that they were in danger.
After hearing most of her testimony, Michael LaPorte, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, said in an interview that the policies described by the commander are "guidelines."
"You can't choreograph a fight, and how every person might react to a certain stimulus," Sgt. LaPorte said. Especially in a "life or death struggle" any available weapon can be used, he said.
Cmdr. Brackney did not testify in the first trial, in 2012, in which most jurors sided with the officers, compelling a mistrial.
The officers have said that the bulge they saw, and hard object they felt, in Mr. Miles' coat pocket may have been a Mountain Dew bottle, or a never-recovered gun.
When he saw Mr. Miles' hand reach down toward his pocket or waistband, Officer Saldutte testified, "I told Officers Ewing and Sisak, 'He's got a gun. He's going for it.' "
Attorney Joel Sansone, representing Mr. Miles, asked Officer Saldutte why, in the heat of a struggle, his client would have reached for what may have been a soda bottle.
"I don't know what he was reaching for," the officer said. "In my mind, I believed he had a gun."
The officer said he tossed aside a bottle. "I didn't think anything of it," he said.
Today Mr. Miles' team expects to call the plaintiff's mother and one of his physicians. Mr. Miles' testimony may begin in the afternoon.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. Liz Navratil: email@example.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published March 18, 2014 11:07 AM