A civil trial in which three police officers are the defendants shifted Monday to a test of plaintiff Jordan Miles' credibility, as the Homewood man endured a rigorous cross-examination and then saw the defense begin its case with an attack on what it claimed were his fabrications.
"He's a very likable individual, ladies and gentlemen, but we have to attack the lies we believe he is spreading in this case," said attorney Robert Leight, who opened the defense in the case on behalf of his client, former Pittsburgh and current McCandless Officer Richard Ewing, and in support of Pittsburgh officers David Sisak and Michael Saldutte.
That followed a morning of cross-examination of Mr. Miles, 22, whose testimony began Thursday. The plaintiff didn't waver from his testimony that three undercover officers in an unmarked car jumped out, demanded money, drugs or guns, and then chased and beat him, including hits to the head while he was handcuffed.
The defense suggested a variety of possible explanations for Mr. Miles' dash from police.
Attorney James Wymard, representing Officer Sisak, showed Mr. Miles bare-chested pictures the plaintiff had posted on the social networking website Myspace, when he was in his mid-teens, was "ripped," and called himself "Bulky J."
"And that's how you wanted to portray yourself on the night of Jan. 12, 2010, when the police tried to arrest you, is that correct?" he asked.
"That has nothing to do with that, sir," Mr. Miles said, in a calm voice that he maintained throughout the trial.
Mr. Leight noted that prior to the encounter, Mr. Miles applied to Penn State's crime scene investigation program, implying that he ran to avoid an arrest that could kill his career choice.
"If you were convicted, you couldn't be a police officer, correct?" Mr. Leight asked.
"That wasn't going through my mind, sir," said Mr. Miles. "I ran because of the manner that they jumped out of the car, demanding money, guns and drugs."
Mr. Leight also reminded Mr. Miles of testimony last week, in which he said he kept his hair short for the litigation, and planned to grow his dreadlocks back after the trial.
"Is that because you're putting on a show for the jury?" Mr. Leight asked. "You don't want the jury to see the real Jordan Miles, do you?"
Plaintiff's attorney Joel Sansone objected, saying of Mr. Leight that he's "putting on a show himself."
Mr. Miles also insisted that he didn't have the Mountain Dew bottle that the officers claim they may have mistaken for a gun. The trial took a twist after the defense confronted Mr. Miles with statements by his boyhood friend, Ryan Allen, who told the FBI that the plaintiff had a Mountain Dew bottle.
Mr. Miles said that the FBI "hounded" Mr. Allen until he acceded to the officers' account of the bottle "so he could impeach himself because he did not want to be a part of this case."
That prompted a long sidebar conversation, after which U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone called up criminal defense attorney Chris Rand Eyster, and appointed him to counsel Mr. Allen. Mr. Eyster said he would discuss with Mr. Allen whether he should exercise his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Making false statements to law enforcement officials is a crime.
Former Pittsburgh Officer Darren Fedorski, now working in Scott, was called by the defense and said he arrived on the scene after Mr. Miles was handcuffed. He contradicted several parts of Mr. Miles' account.
Officer Fedorski said that Mr. Miles had his coat on when he was loaded into a transport van, while the Homewood man has said it was stripped off of him. The officer said Mr. Miles' face was shown to neighbor Monica Wooding, also contradicting the plaintiff's testimony. And Mr. Miles said he "fought" with the three defendants, the officer testified.
Plaintiff's attorney Robert Giroux, though, seized on Officer Fedorski's testimony that the defendants said they were in "the fight of their lives."
"These guys said 'fight of their lives,' and you didn't see a red mark on them, did you?" asked Mr. Giroux. "When there was this fight of their lives, you didn't see any injuries on [Mr. Miles'] hands and wrists, did you?"
Officer Fedorski confirmed that he saw no marks on the officers, and wasn't aware of any injuries to Mr. Miles' hands or wrists.
The defense has argued that Officer Sisak's flashlight was lost in the snow, but Mr. Giroux challenged that notion while questioning Officer Fedorski.
"No one told you that Officer Sisak lost his flashlight, did they? Because you saw him with it."
Officer Fedorski did not disagree.
The officers have testified that they saw Mr. Miles between two houses on trouble-plagued Tioga Street, so they pulled up, identified themselves as police, and began to question him. When he ran, they chased him, and when he fought, they tackled, punched and kneed him until they were able to get handcuffs on, they said.
Pittsburgh Officer David Wright, who teaches use of force at the city police academy, confirmed that he owns a gym where Officer Saldutte trains for free in return for teaching self defense.
The trial is the second in the matter.
In 2012, a jury found that the officers did not maliciously prosecute Mr. Miles, but could not reach unanimity on whether they falsely arrested him and used excessive force.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. Liz Navratil contributed. First Published March 23, 2014 11:53 PM