A claim that an ammunition magazine lay in a Homewood yard the day after police arrested Jordan Miles there in 2010 provoked some of the sharpest legal sparring Tuesday in the first day of the second civil trial in the excessive-force case.
To the attorneys for accused Officers David Sisak, Michael Saldutte and Richard Ewing, the report of a magazine suggested that their fear of a weapon was warranted, and that the Miles family may have tried to conceal evidence. The plaintiff's team, though, portrayed it as a "ridiculous" red herring.
"Have you ever seen your grandson in possession of a weapon -- ever?" plaintiff's attorney Joel Sansone asked Patricia Porter, Mr. Miles' grandmother and the first witness at trial.
"Never," she said.
Today Mr. Miles' legal team may call the officers to testify. "They're going to have to answer for their conduct," said Mr. Sansone.
Attorneys for Mr. Miles, 22, and two of the officers reiterating their sides' very different views of a Jan. 12, 2010, encounter that left Mr. Miles' face swollen. They agreed that after 11 p.m. the plainclothes city officers, patrolling in an unmarked car, saw Mr. Miles and tackled and arrested him. Each side blamed the other for the result.
"He created his own problem, members of the jury, and that's going to be our argument in this case," said defense attorney James Wymard, gesturing toward Mr. Miles. "All he had to do, members of the jury, is stop."
Instead he bolted from police, who thought he had a weapon, said Mr. Wymard, who represents Officer Sisak.
"It's ridiculous to say this 5-foot 7-inch, 155 pound young man was going to try to take on these three highly trained police officers, two of whom are trained in grappling," said Robert Giroux, one of Mr. Miles' attorneys.
Police training expert R. Paul McCauley, a professor emeritus in criminology for Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said that even if Mr. Miles ran from police, their use of force was excessive.
Three large officers on one smaller, unarmed man "do not have to escalate the force to deadly force by hitting Jordan Miles in the head," said Mr. McCauley, retained by Mr. Miles' team.
The use-of-force calculus could change if Mr. Miles had a gun.
At the first civil trial in 2012, the late Chief Judge Gary Lancaster of U.S. District Court did not allow testimony on witness Monica Wooding's claim that she saw a magazine in her yard the day after Mr. Miles was tackled there. This time, U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone has allowed testimony on the magazine, which was never recovered.
Mr. Wymard suggested that the day after the incident, a cousin of Ms. Porter called Ms. Wooding, and told her to collect the magazine and bring it into her house. Mr. Wymard sought to ask Ms. Porter whether she instructed the cousin to make the call, but Mr. Sansone's objection was sustained.
"I heard talk about" the magazine, said Ms. Porter.
"Do you know anything about how that may have disappeared?" Mr. Wymard asked.
Again, Judge Cercone sustained Mr. Sansone's objection.
Mr. Sansone then asked Ms. Porter where she went the day after the incident. She said she only went from her home to Downtown, to pick up Mr. Miles at jail.
"You mean you weren't at Monica Wooding's house, moving that clip?" he asked.
Ms. Porter said she was not.
Judge Cercone last week decided to allow the officers to present several 9mm bullets found in Ms. Wooding's yard. He reversed that decision this week after Mr. Miles' attorneys noted that the bullets were found months after the incident.
Ms. Porter testified that Mr. Miles has not been the same since the incident, becoming withdrawn, quitting church and never picking up his once-beloved viola. Attorney Robert Leight, representing Officer Ewing, countered that the plaintiff now capably works at a customer service job at a CVS Pharmacy.
On Monday, eight jurors were picked, including four white men and four white women. Judge Cercone said he expects the trial to last 2 1/2 weeks, four days per week.
At the initial trial in 2012, a jury found in favor of the officers on a malicious prosecution count. A minority of the jurors found in favor of Mr. Miles on the false arrest and excessive force counts, leading to the retrial.
Officers Sisak and Saldutte continue to work for the Pittsburgh police, while Officer Ewing took a job in McCandless.
Rich Lord: email@example.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord. First Published March 11, 2014 12:01 PM