Deliberations to begin in Miles police brutality case
March 27, 2014 10:44 PM
Jordan Miles enters the Federal Courthouse in Pittsburgh with family members earlier this month.
By Rich Lord / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The defense zoomed in on broken twigs, a discarded Bluetooth. The plaintiffs displayed a bloated face and alleged a battered Constitution.
With that, the attorneys for the two sides in the civil trial pitting Jordan Miles against three police officers made their final arguments to the jury Thursday. Deliberations begin today in a case that has come to symbolize differing perceptions on police-community relations.
Mr. Miles' attorney, Joel Sansone, portrayed his client's arrest on Jan. 12, 2010, as a "jump out" conducted by three undercover Pittsburgh officers who wanted to get the element of surprise on someone they thought might be a drug dealer, and who then delivered "frontier justice."
Mr. Sansone urged that the jury "send a message to the police. ... They must understand that we the people won't suffer this."
The officers' attorneys said the physical evidence proved "overwhelmingly" that the officers were telling the truth, and Mr. Miles was making things up.
Attorney Bryan Campbell, representing Officer Michael Saldutte, said a story Mr. Miles made up to explain his arrest to his mother and grandmother "took on a life of its own. ... All of a sudden this community rallies," and Mr. Miles can't back down.
As U.S. District Judge David Cercone explained to the jury, the case rests on whether a reasonable police officer, confronted with the circumstances the defendants met that night, would have probable cause to arrest Mr. Miles, and would have used similar force to achieve that.
If the answer is no, then Mr. Miles' Fourth Amendment rights have been violated. The jury can then award him nominal damages of $1 or compensatory damages based on his suffering, and potentially punitive damages if the officers acted "maliciously or wantonly."
The officers had "every right to stop [Mr. Miles]," said attorney James Wymard, representing Officer David Sisak. "Eleven o'clock, dark out, hiding beside the house. What do you want them to do? Keep driving? Go get coffee and doughnuts?"
"If they said they were police, what would be Jordan's reason for running?" countered Mr. Sansone. "They wanted to surprise him, and when they did so, he ran."
Attorneys for both sides accused the opposing party of lying about the particulars of the arrest, and then making up stories and possibly tampering with or destroying evidence, like the Mountain Dew bottle and gun clip reportedly found on the scene.
Mr. Wymard pointed out that the officers, and not the plaintiff, have said that Officer Sisak tackled Mr. Miles through bushes. That coincides with a broken hedgerow and the twigs embedded in Mr. Miles' mouth, he said.
And while Mr. Miles claimed he was holding a cell phone during the incident, his mother's Bluetooth wireless device was found in the snow on the scene, noted attorney Robert Leight, representing Officer Ewing. That would support the officers' account that he had his hands in his pockets.
The only neighbor who heard anything was a woman who testified that someone yelled "help" three times, said Mr. Sansone. That, he said, corroborated Mr. Miles' contention that he was beset by an attack he did not comprehend.
"And the kid had the temerity to try to get away [so] they exacted a little bit of frontier justice," said the plaintiff's attorney.
Mr. Sansone built much of his argument on evidence he found conspicuously absent: Signs of injuries to the officers, and Officer Sisak's lost flashlight.
He mocked the officers' claims that they were in "the fight of their lives" with Mr. Miles.
"Suddenly, this night, [Mr. Miles] becomes a ninja," Mr. Sansone said. "And the biggest injury any of them got was a little dime-sized hole" in the skin of Officer Sisak's knee.
Based on a transport officer's testimony that all three of the defendants searched the area with flashlights, Mr. Sansone implied that Officer Sisak reported his flashlight lost to prevent anyone from testing it for DNA. The plaintiff claimed he was struck by a hard object, possibly a flashlight, after he was handcuffed -- a claim the officers vehemently denied.
The defense contended that Mr. Miles' medical treatment was driven mostly by his mother and his attorneys, questioning the plaintiff's contention that he still suffers from post-concussion syndrome.
Mr. Sansone wasn't shy about seeking damages.
"How do you value the suffering and the humiliation he will revisit every day of his life?" the plaintiff's attorney asked. He cited Penguins captain Sidney Crosby's salary. He pointed out that a Stradivarius violin once sold for $16 million, then in a nod to the plaintiff's viola playing past, added, "Jordan's violin is silent."
The closings followed 10 days of testimony on the three-minute incident, which was also the subject of a trial in 2012. That jury found in favor of the officers on a malicious prosecution count, but could not reach unanimity on the false arrest and excessive force counts.
Mr. Leight, who also represented Officer Ewing at the first trial, called the sequel the most hard-fought trial he'd had.
"This has been a very spirited and contentious trial," Mr. Leight said, "and you've seen the very best that a lawyer can be and the very worst that a lawyer can be."
Rich Lord: email@example.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. First Published March 27, 2014 11:04 AM
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