Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said he relied on multiple reports by outside experts before concluding that he did not have enough evidence to bring criminal charges against three white Pittsburgh police officers accused of beating a young black man during an arrest.
Mr. Zappala announced Wednesday that there was "not a prosecutable case" against officers Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing. The three were working undercover when they confronted Jordan Miles, then 18, in a high-crime area in Homewood in January 2010.
Mr. Zappala said he and his investigators had reviewed four separate consultant reports into the incident and read the transcripts from depositions taken for the civil case brought by a lawyer for Mr. Miles.
"I agree with the federal government," Mr. Zappala said at a news conference. He was referring to the decision of the U.S. attorney's office not to bring charges of civil rights violations against any of the officers involved in the case.
In police reports, the three officers said they confronted Mr. Miles because he appeared to be "sneaking around" a house in the 7900 block of Tioga Street. He appeared to have a heavy object in his right coat pocket that they thought was a concealed weapon. The item was identified in investigators' reports as a bottle of Mountain Dew.
They said they identified themselves as police and ordered Mr. Miles to stop, but he ran. They chased him, caught him and hit him several times when he resisted, according to their report.
Mr. Miles was charged with counts including aggravated assault and resisting arrest, all of which were later dismissed by District Judge Oscar Petite Jr.
Mr. Miles, now 20, told KDKA-TV he was "a little disappointed" but "not surprised" by the district attorney's decision.
Mr. Miles's attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, said he never expected Mr. Zappala to press charges, because "it's hard to be objective when the DA works with the police in literally every case."
Mr. Lewis is also representing Mr. Miles in the federal civil lawsuit against the officers. That case is scheduled for jury trial on July 16.
"He has a jury of his peers who can decide the case rather than politicians and talking heads," Mr. Lewis said.
Mr. Zappala announced his decision one day after Allegheny County Councilman Bill Robinson asked council to look into what he described as possible conflicts of interest when the district attorney's office investigates cases involving citizens' claims of police misconduct.
Council can initiate such a probe as part of its oversight of all county spending, Mr. Robinson said on Tuesday.
At his news conference Wednesday, Mr. Zappala defended his record in prosecuting cases against police officers accused of mistreating people of color. Shortly after he was first appointed district attorney, he appealed to state Superior and Supreme courts in an effort to get another trial for a Brentwood police officer charged in connection with the death of black motorist Jonny Gammage. His appeals were turned down.
His office charged a Pittsburgh Housing Authority police officer, John Charmo, in the 1995 shooting death of a black man in the Armstrong Tunnel. Mr. Charmo pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 2001.
In 1999, Mr. Zappala's office charged city police Officer Jeffrey Cooperstein with homicide in the shooting death of a black man at a police checkpoint on Second Avenue. Mr. Cooperstein was acquitted.
Mr. Charmo and Mr. Cooperstein are white.
In the past 18 months, he said his office had investigated 13 other cases involving allegations of police misconduct.
In deciding not to bring charges against officers Saldutte, Sisak and Ewing, Mr. Zappala said he relied heavily on the conclusions of an investigation done for his office by a retired state police trooper whose duties included training other police officers. In his report, Clifford W. Jobe Jr. said the efforts the three undercover officers used to subdue Mr. Miles were "consistent with accepted law enforcement practices, training and standards."
Mr. Zappala was asked about similarities between the Miles case and that involving the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. A special prosecutor brought charges against the neighborhood watch member who shot the unarmed black teenager after a struggle. He was asked whether he should have brought charges and then allowed a jury to decide guilt.
"This case wouldn't get to a jury," he said. Lack of firm evidence would result in a judge throwing out any criminal counts, he said.
"The appropriate forum is the civil side," he said.
Mr. Miles, who had just turned 18 and was an honor student at Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts, was walking to his grandmother's house when the incident with police occurred. Supporters describe his case as an example of racial profiling.
Mr. Robinson said Wednesday he was pleased that Mr. Zappala had made a decision in the Miles case, but he declined to say whether he agreed with it. "I can't substitute my judgment for his," Mr. Robinson said. He said his broader concerns about how the DA's office operates remain.
The three officers were suspended with pay for a year but have since returned to patrol. They are in uniform working out of the city's zone stations.
Sgt. Mike LaPorte, president of the city's police union, said the district attorney's decision is "long overdue closure. ... I can't understand why it would have taken this long. This is police work 101, and anyone who knows what happened would be able to see that.
"It is reassuring that District Attorney Zappala's office did a thorough and impartial investigation the results of which proved what we knew all along. District Attorney Zappala should be commended for not bowing to the self-interest groups who fueled the unrest over this incident."
Lawyer James Wymard, who is representing Officer Sisak, said of Mr. Zappala's decision. "It's been a long time." The case "has been a huge cloud over his head this whole time, for him and his family" he added
Backers of Mr. Miles were chagrined.
"Disappointment is saying things lightly," said Brandi Fisher, chairwoman of the Alliance for Police Accountability, which held a small rally outside Mellon Green on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Grant Street, Downtown. Over the past two years alliance members have rallied and delivered petitions to the district attorney, urging him to charge the officers.
She said her group now will press the state attorney general's office to take its own look into the case.
"This is not the end," Ms. Fisher said.neigh_city