Questions about statements to police force delay Jordan Miles civil trial
March 24, 2014 3:06 PM
Jordan Miles enters the Federal Courthouse in Pittsburgh earlier this month.
By Rich Lord / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The third week of the civil trial pitting Jordan Miles against three police officers began today with the final cross-examination of the 22-year-old Homewood man.and proceeded into the opening of the defense's case.
Pittsburgh police officers Michael Saldutte and David Sisak, along with former city officer Richard Ewing who is now with McCandless, sat behind their lawyers at the second defense table, as they have since the March 10 selection of the jury. The three shook their heads vigorously at parts of Mr. Miles’ testimony, and nodded at their lawyers’ dogged cross examination.
At the start of the afternoon session, Mr. Miles' attorneys rested their case.
Attorney Robert Leight, representing Officer Ewing, opened the defense case. He told the jury that the case wasn't about guns, race, proving force or even false arrest.
"What this case is about is what a reasonably objective police officer would have done on the night of Jan. 12, 2010," given the circumstances presented to the three police, he said.
He showed the jury Mr. Miles' peacoat, with a Mountain Dew bottle stuffed in one pocket -- the visual police have said confronted them at 11 p.m. on that cold night.
Police thought it was a gun, Mr. Leight said, and used necessary force. "An arrest isn't sport," he added. "An officer loses in an arrest, they're dead."
The defense attorney said he's not there to demonize Mr. Miles, but will point out problems with his account of events.
"Have they tried to fabricate their story in order to come in line with the physical evidence?" Mr. Leight asked.
Mr. Miles, he said, is "a very likable individual, ladies and gentlemen, but we have to attack the lies we believe he is spreading in this case."
The defense led off with Pittsburgh Officer David Wright, who teaches use of force at the city police academy.
Officer Wright said that police can use more force than the subject they are trying to arrest. He said there is no specific ban in police procedure on punches to the head.
He said tackling is frowned upon, and both choke holds and strikes with an object to the head are considered deadly force.
Officer Sisak has testified that he tackled Mr. Miles and punched him in the head. Mr. Miles has said he was choked and hit with a hard object -- possibly a flashlight -- when he was already handcuffed.
Officer Wright said the police flashlight is the third-most-often-used impact weapon, following the baton and blackjack, and just ahead of the radio and miscellaneous found objects.
Homewood man A-Ron Roberts, who lives at the house in front of which the incident began, then told the jury what he saw the morning after the incident. His cable wire was loose, and bushes between his house and a neighbor's were damaged and festooned with hair.
Officer Wright confirmed that he owns a gym where Officer Saldutte trains for free in return for teaching self defense.
A hiccup in the morning's proceedings wasn't immediately addressed in the afternoon.
Part of Mr. Miles' testimony caused an unusual snag in the case that prompted U.S. District Judge David Cercone to delay further testimony from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Attorneys for the officers questioned Mr. Miles about statements made by his former friend, Ryan Allen, to the FBI and others.
According to the testimony, Mr. Allen may have made conflicting statements to law enforcement regarding whether Mr. Miles said that he had a Mountain Dew bottle in his coat pocket at the time of the incident. The officers have said that a bulge they feared was a gun was actually a bottle, but Mr. Miles has denied carrying any soft drink.
Mr. Allen "told the FBI that I had a Mountain Dew bottle in my pocket so he could impeach himself because he did not want to be a part of this case," Mr. Miles testified.
"FBI agents hounded [Mr. Allen] down multiple times over the years," Mr. Miles later said, implying that his former friend changed his story to put an end to the questions.
Making false statements to law enforcement is a crime.
After a long sidebar conversation, Judge 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.
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.
Mr. Wymard also quizzed Mr. Miles on a conversation he had hours after the incident, at West Penn Hospital, with a police sergeant.
“You told him that you were scared [of the three officers] and you didn’t want to go to jail,” said Mr. Wymard.
“I also told him that I didn’t lay a finger on them,” Mr. Miles said.
Mr. Leight, representing Officer Ewing, noted that a month prior to the encounter, Mr. Miles applied to Penn State’s crime scene investigation program. He implied that the then-pending application spurred Mr. Miles to run from police.
“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.” Judge Cercone sustained the objection.
Attorney Bryan Campbell, representing Officer Saldutte, sought to show that the young man once diagnosed with “patchy amnesia” actually had vivid recollections of some events.”
The plaintiffs are expected to complete their case today and turn it over to the defense.
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 believed they saw a bulge in his coat indicative of a gun, they said. So they chased him, and when he fought them, they used necessary force to subdue him, they said.
Mr. Miles has maintained that he was walking around the block from his mother’s to his grandmother’s house on Jan. 12, 2010, when an unmarked car pulled up and three men jumped out. He claims they did not identify themselves as police and demanded any money, guns and drugs he had. When he ran, he said, they beat him, including one hit with a hard object while he was handcuffed.
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.