City high school students rally to demand an investigation into the arrest and alleged beating of a classmate
January 27, 2010 10:00 AM
Some of the CAPA students wave their signs at motorists along Liberty Avenue as they marched to the mayor's office and City Council chambers.
Jordan Miles' badly bruised head and face after being arrested by Pittsburgh police officers.
By Sadie Gurman and Rich Lord Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Students from the city's Creative and Performing Arts High School marched to the City-County Building on Tuesday in support of a classmate who said police brutally beat him earlier this month, calling for action on a case that has drawn public outrage and the attention of the FBI.
The rally of more than 50 students, who cried at times and held handwritten signs, ended in front of council chambers, where protesters demanded an investigation of the officers involved in the Jan. 12 arrest of Jordan Miles in Homewood.
Mr. Miles, 18, who is charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, said three undercover officers beat him when they mistook the bottle of soda he was carrying for a concealed weapon.
"There are good police," said CAPA sophomore Nigel Ash. "But if there's one bad [officer] that does something like this, we can't trust the police department."
Police Chief Nate Harper yesterday asked for the public's patience as the city's Office of Municipal Investigations investigates, while members of the city's Fraternal Order of Police praised Officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak as the city's most effective at getting guns off the streets.
"Their actions were correct and law-abiding by everything they received in their training," FOP Vice President Charles Hanlon said. "The demand by special interest groups that they be removed from the streets is an insult to their hard work."
The day ended with heated comments from students and local activists before the Police Citizen Review Board, which also pledged a full investigation.
"Most of the members sitting here feel just as much outrage at what has happened to this child," board Chairwoman Marsha Hinton said after listening to about a dozen speakers, some of whom called for the officers to be suspended or placed on desk duty. "We will investigate."
Mr. Miles' schoolmates pointed to his academic success. A violist and honor student, he is bound for Penn State University, they said.
Mr. Miles' attorney, Kerrington Lewis, has said the teen took repeated blows to the head, a tree branch impaled his gums and the officers tore a chunk of hair from his head.
In a criminal complaint, police said the officers, on undercover patrol in Homewood, spied Mr. Miles about 11 p.m. on Tioga Street. Seeing a heavy object in his coat, they identified themselves as police and ordered him to stop.
Mr. Miles ran, the complaint says, and the officers shot him with a Taser and struck him several times in a struggle. Mr. Miles has denied the officers identified themselves.
The officers were traveling in what is known as a "99" car, manned by plainclothes officers whose main goal is to rid a specific area of guns and drugs. They are not responsible for answering most 911 calls and are typically known as the zone's best and most aggressive officers.
Officers Ewing, Saldutte and Sisak joined the force in 2005.
Mr. Hanlon called them "model officers and model citizens" with special training and "numerous awards and commendations."
He said Officer Sisak earned an award for saving a drowning man when he worked with the Ocean City, Md. police force; Officer Ewing earned a leadership award after graduating from the city's police academy; and Officer Saldutte was named officer of the month last year.
He decried what he said was a perception that "any time anyone has a conflicting story with a police report, the police are lying. Just because Mr. Miles is an honor student doesn't mean the public should discredit the officers' account of the night, he said. The Police Citizen Review Board, he added, is unable to conduct an unbiased investigation and doesn't know the details of the case.
Stirring tears throughout the day were pictures of Mr. Miles, which show his face covered in bruises and his right eye swollen shut.
"Something's wrong here," said City Councilman Doug Shields, after dozens of students and police accountability advocates addressed the council. "Look, they're right. These children asked us questions. It's front and center. If it makes us uncomfortable, then maybe we should quit the job."
Then, holding up the picture of Mr. Miles, he said, "I wonder how much we're going to have to pay for this. Because we know the lawsuits are going to come."
The FBI confirmed yesterday that its agents are also looking into Mr. Miles' allegations.
"We've gotten a lot of inquiries about this," said agent Jeffrey B. Killeen. "And even before today, we were aware of this thing happening and we were assessing it."
Mr. Killeen stressed that the FBI uses a "tiered approach" in its inquiries, that begins with "an assessment phase," then proceeds to a preliminary inquiry and finally a full investigation. Agents are in the assessment phase on this case, he said.
Mr. Miles' attorney wrote a letter to the Pittsburgh office formally requesting an FBI investigation because, he said, only an outside agency can fairly investigate. Mr. Killeen said the lawyer's request had no bearing on the FBI's assessment of the case.
The officers remain on duty but are in uniform instead of plainclothes, a decision Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he supports.