Charges were dismissed against Jordan Miles, a CAPA student who claims three Pittsburgh police officers beat him in an incident in Homewwod in January.
By Paula Reed Ward Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A judge relied on the testimony of a witness over the police version of events in dismissing charges Thursday against Jordan Miles, a high school student charged with assault and resisting arrest.
Mr. Miles has said that he was beaten by the officers, who did not identify themselves before attacking him. Police say he was injured when he fought them as they tried to arrest him.
But a crucial point during Mr. Miles' hearing was the conflicting testimony of Officer Michael Saldutte -- as well as information from the affidavit of probable cause -- and that of Monica Wooding, who lives on Tioga Street in Homewood where the Jan. 12 incident occurred. The police reported that they asked the homeowner whether she knew Mr. Miles and she said she did not. Ms. Wooding testified on Thursday that she didn't say that, and in fact she knows Mr. Miles well.
Comments by Jordan Miles after charges of aggravated assault and resisting arrest were dismissed.
Magisterial District Judge Oscar Petite Jr. found the woman's testimony credible, and he dismissed the case against the 18-year-old senior at Pittsburgh's Creative and Performing Arts High School, who was charged with escape and loitering in addition to aggravated assault and resisting arrest.
"When I look at everything in this case, I'm left with no other alternative but to dismiss all charges against Jordan Miles," Judge Petite said. "Officers are witnesses just like everybody else. No witness is any more important than another."
The case attracted national attention after photos of Mr. Miles, his face badly swollen and large patches of hair torn out, were released.
Mr. Miles, who will graduate this year and hopes to study crime scene investigation at Penn State University, said he was relieved by the judge's decision. He did not testify, but said after the hearing that he believed he was being abducted, and didn't know the men were officers until a police wagon pulled up.
"I didn't know who they were. They asked where's your gun, where's your money, where's your drugs?" he said in an interview after the hearing.
During Thursday's preliminary hearing, Officer Saldutte testified about what happened that night.
About 11 p.m. on Jan. 12, he was working a plainclothes detail with Officers Richard Ewing and David Sisak. As they drove down Tioga Street, he said he noticed a man standing very near a house in the 7900 block.
"It looked like he was attempting to conceal himself," Officer Saldutte said.
The officers, who were passing by in an undercover car, turned around. As they approached the second time, Officer Saldutte said he saw the man walking out from alongside the house toward the sidewalk.
When the man saw the car, the officer said, he put his head down and his hand in his right front pocket.
Officer Saldutte, who repeatedly used the phrase "high crime area," during his testimony referring to Homewood, said he identified himself as a police officer and asked where Mr. Miles was going.
When he asked Mr. Miles to stop, Officer Saldutte said the man turned to run. He noted that the right side of Mr. Miles' coat was hanging low, and he suspected he had a weapon.
After running 20 or 30 feet, Mr. Miles fell.
"He was slow to get up," Officer Saldutte said.
He commanded the man to stay down on the ground, but he wouldn't comply.
The officer said that Mr. Miles was combative, striking him in the temple with his elbow as he tried to control him. Mr. Miles also donkey kicked Officer Sisak as he tried to restrain him, he continued.
Officer Saldutte then used several knee strikes to try to get Mr. Miles under control while Officer Sisak punched him three times in the face.
They also tried to deploy a Taser on him, though the effort failed.
Ultimately, they got him handcuffed and took him into custody.
After that happened, Officer Saldutte said Ms. Wooding, who lived in the house where they'd seen Mr. Miles, called out from an upstairs window asking if they were all right.
He asked if she heard anyone trying to get into her house, and according to the affidavit, if she knew Mr. Miles.
The report quoted the woman as saying she did not know him.
But defense attorney Kerry Lewis called Ms. Wooding as a witness, and she disputed the report.
She's known Mr. Miles for several years, and he plays basketball with her son, Ms. Wooding testified.
She said she never told police that she didn't know him.
Using that information, Mr. Lewis argued to Judge Petite that the affidavit that led to the arrest was defective because it contained possibly perjured information. Therefore, he continued, the case must be dismissed.
Throughout his cross-examination of Officer Saldutte, Mr. Lewis tried to show the judge that the officers' story that his client had assaulted them was not plausible.
All three officers are 5 feet 11 inches or taller and weigh about 200 pounds. Mr. Miles is 5 feet 6-1/2 inches tall and weighs 150 pounds.
The defense also made much of the supposed weapon the officers claimed to have seen.
After the scuffle ended, police said what they found in Mr. Miles' pocket was a bottle of Mountain Dew.
It was never taken into evidence, Officer Saldutte testified.
That's because it didn't exist, Mr. Lewis replied.
Following the hearing, Mr. Miles said he never had a bottle of Mountain Dew, and that he never fought back against the police.
"None of it happened the way they said it," he said. "When I fell, I never got back up."
Mr. Miles thought he was being robbed when the three men approached him.
"When they put the handcuffs on me, I thought I was going to get abducted because I still didn't know they were undercover cops."
In dismissing the case, Judge Petite did leave open the possibility that it could be refiled -- though not using the same affidavit.
Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, said the office will review the dismissal.
"In this instance, the judge assigned substantial legal significance to the testimony of the victim of the prowling charge," he said. "Our office will have to take a close look at that."
No one from the city's Office of Municipal Investigations returned phone calls seeking comment.
The case has been taken up by civil rights activists who claimed that Mr. Miles was targeted by officers simply for being a young black man in Homewood.
Following his Jan. 12 arrest, students at CAPA organized protest marches speaking out against what they believe was police brutality.
The FBI is looking into the allegations.
"It can't stop here," said M. Gayle Moss, the president of the Pittsburgh NAACP. "There has to be something done with the officers that did this. This doesn't just happen in Homewood. It happens everywhere there is African-American concentration."
Mr. Miles said the dismissal vindicates him.
"This proves that I was telling the truth," he said. "I didn't want to have everybody looking at me negatively just because of the place where I live or the color of my skin.
"I go to a very prestigious school. I get good grades, I don't want anyone to have an impression of me that I'm some gang-banger just because of the neighborhood that I live in."