Three police officers had a decided edge when they met young, lanky Jordan Miles on a Homewood street on Jan. 12, 2010, but the coming court fight over what ensued that night looks to be a much more even contest.
That's the conclusion of some attorneys Monday, in the wake of a judge's ruling in favor of Mr. Miles' team on three important procedural matters in his lawsuit against the officers. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster denied the officers' request for a psychiatric exam of Mr. Miles, denied their request for access to secret grand jury testimony and allowed plaintiffs' attorneys to depose three private investigators.
The judge's order, written late Friday, "doesn't necessarily show how the case is going to go in an overall sense, but on these couple of very important issues, it's certainly helpful to the plaintiff," said David A. Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who specializes in law enforcement.
Mr. Miles' swollen face following his arrest became a focal point in the debate over police-community relations in Pittsburgh, spurring protests and new city ordinances. The July 16 civil trial is likely to touch on many civic sore spots.
Recent court filings in the case have focused on police reporting of statements by Monica Wooding, on whose property Mr. Miles was accused of loitering and prowling. Plaintiffs' attorneys have said that police "fabricated" her statements in their initial reports.
That accusation could create "real questions of who you believe and who is credible here," Mr. Harris said. Absent evidence to the contrary, juries typically believe police officers.
Lawyers for the police Monday said they will vigorously argue that the three officers "properly identified themselves and properly followed the continuum of force through the arrest," as one of the attorneys, Chris Conrad, put it. "None of the [judge's] three orders are extremely telling, or extremely influential to the manner in which the case will be defended."
Mr. Conrad and Fraternal Order of Police attorney Bryan Campbell wanted to have a psychiatrist of their choosing evaluate Mr. Miles, now 20, so they could challenge his claim of lasting injury. Judge Lancaster said no, ruling that their March 22 request was too late because he had set an October deadline for discovery.
The judge also denied the officers' motion for access to testimony of two of Mr. Miles' friends before the federal grand jury that reviewed the officers' actions. Neither side has won access to grand jury transcripts, which are presumed to be secret except in extraordinary circumstances.
The officers' attorneys believe that the friends may have contradicted Mr. Miles' claim that he was not carrying a Mountain Dew bottle at the time of his arrest. The friends "would have in our estimation created some great credibility problems" for Mr. Miles, Mr. Conrad said.
Mr. Conrad said the friends will be called as witnesses at trial.
The police have not produced a bottle, and its presence or absence is "a critical fact," Mr. Harris said. If it "was in his pocket, that perhaps looked like a weapon to somebody from the outside," justifying the pursuit and use of force.
Judge Lancaster also ruled that Mr. Miles' attorneys can depose three investigators hired by police to aid in preparation of their defense. The investigators' report was produced recently and filed under seal, the judge's order said, so the plaintiffs can question its authors.
J. Kerrington Lewis, one of Mr. Miles' attorneys, said that the investigators interviewed the two friends, among other things, and he wants to know more about their findings and technique.
Not part of the judge's order, but a subject of increasing emphasis by the plaintiffs, is police handling of the witness's account.
Mr. Lewis said that Ms. Wooding's account was a key part of the officers' criminal complaint against Mr. Miles. Her testimony at a preliminary hearing, however, led to dismissal of charges against Mr. Miles.
When police wrote in their affidavit that she "did not know Miles and he did not have permission to be on [her] property," they were "incorporating a false statement" into an official document, Mr. Lewis and attorney Timothy O'Brien wrote in their pretrial statement. They said Ms. Wooding "knew Jordan Miles well and [has testified] that he was her son's friend" and a regular visitor to her property.
"Wooding is important because you have men who are given a lot of power as police officers," Mr. Lewis said. "If they start fabricating stuff under oath, that's a whole separate matter as far as civil rights is concerned," calling it a "corruption of justice."
Mr. Conrad said some of Ms. Wooding's statements also were heard by officers who came to the scene after the altercation to transport Mr. Miles. He said that the portions heard by those officers matched the accounts of the three arresting officers, Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing, who are the defendants in the civil case.
Mr. Miles was charged with loitering, prowling, assault, resisting arrest and escape. He said that police did not identify themselves before they beat and kicked him, then shocked him with a Taser.
The officers were not charged with any crime.
The city settled with Mr. Miles for $75,000 but is still on the hook if a jury hands down a verdict against the officers.
"The only way that this case can be decided as far as winning and losing is if a jury hears the evidence and decides," Mr. Lewis said.
Rich Lord: email@example.com or 412-263-1542. First Published May 8, 2012 1:15 AM