Officers' defense begins in Jordan Miles civil case

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After 21/2 years of public silence about what happened to Jordan Miles on Jan. 12, 2010, the three Pittsburgh police officers he accused of beating him began their defense at a civil trial Thursday.

"I think from the very beginning, the officers felt their version never got out," said Bryan Campbell, the attorney representing Officer Michael Saldutte. "Nobody was coming to their defense publicly."

Now they're finally able to show, Mr. Campbell said, that Mr. Miles' injuries and swollen face were caused when he was tackled through bushes, and that what the officers did was "all within the continuum of force" taught in the police academy.

Timothy O'Brien, one of Mr. Miles' attorneys, said that nothing he heard changed the fact that Mr. Miles "was beaten to within an inch of his life," under a set of circumstances "that should never happen in this country."

Mr. Miles, 20, has said that he was walking the Homewood street between his mother's and his grandmother's houses when three white men got out of an unmarked car, chased him down and beat him, before and after they handcuffed him. No criminal charges were filed against the officers, and if a jury finds in Mr. Miles' favor, the city would pay any verdict.

Officer Saldutte, 30, a Bethel Park native and Westminster College graduate, told an eight-member jury that he has been with the city since 2005, and joined the unmarked "99 car" team in late 2009.

Their job on the night in question was to look for suspicious activity, and they thought they saw it at 11 p.m. at 7940 Tioga St.

"It was a figure, person in dark clothing, almost like they're hiding, up against the house," the officer said. "We're in a high-crime area. It's the middle of a snowstorm. ... We decided to turn around and investigate."

They came to a stop 20 or 30 feet from Mr. Miles as he came out of the yard and turned sideways, which is sometimes a sign that a subject is hiding a gun, Officer Saldutte said.

"I believe Officer Ewing said, 'Pittsburgh police,' " Officer Saldutte testified.

Officer Saldutte said he stood shielded by the passenger door of the car, holding up the badge on a chain around his neck. He asked Mr. Miles if 7940 Tioga was his home, and he said it wasn't.

"I was able to see that he had a bulge in his right front pocket where a few seconds earlier he had his right hand," Officer Saldutte said. He asked Mr. Miles why he was "sneaking around someone's house." Mr. Miles walked away.

"I looked in the car and said, 'He's going to go on us,' " the officer said, and Mr. Miles "took off running."

Officer Saldutte said he gave chase, yelling, "Pittsburgh police, stop!" Mr. Miles, he said, tried to turn left and slipped on ice, and "pretty much landed on the ground."

Mr. Miles rose, Officer Saldutte said. When the officer tried to grab him, the subject elbowed him in the head and pulled free and ran, he said.

Officer David Sisak fired his Taser, which didn't work. "Officer Sisak pretty much tackled him, pushed him, to the ground," over garbage cans and through bushes, Officer Saldutte said. A donkey kick by Mr. Miles hyperextended Officer Sisak's knee, Officer Saldutte said.

As the three officers struggled to get Mr. Miles handcuffed, Officer Saldutte thought he was trying to reach for the hard object in his pocket and yelled, "I think he's got a gun!" he said.

"He started screaming, 'Don't take me to jail! Just let me go home!' " Officer Saldutte testified.

Officer Saldutte said he began kneeing Mr. Miles in the side, and a knee to the head by Officer Ewing allowed them to apply handcuffs.

Officer Saldutte then found the Mountain Dew bottle, he said, and tossed it aside. Mr. Miles testified last week that he didn't have a bottle.

"He probably did have a gun on him," Officer Saldutte said, prompting objections from Mr. Miles' legal team. No gun was ever found, despite a lengthy search of the snow.

"Did Sisak say to you that he thought the kid was going to die?" asked attorney J. Kerrington Lewis, representing Mr. Miles, on cross-examination.

"He did mention it," said Officer Saldutte.

Officer Saldutte said that neither he, nor his co-defendants officers, struck Mr. Miles after he was handcuffed, or pulled his hair out, as the plaintiff has claimed.

Mr. Lewis pressed his core arguments: That the young student had no reason to behave as if he had a gun when he did not, and that the three trained officers could have easily subdued the much smaller man, but got mad and used "punitive force."

"You, Ewing and Sisak, together, are at least 630 pounds of man who were having a hard time restraining Jordan Miles," he said later, incredulously.

U.S. District Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster repeatedly reined in Mr. Lewis when he veered from questioning to speech making.

Mr. Miles was initially charged with aggravated assault, loitering, escape and resisting arrest based on an affidavit by officers Saldutte and Ewing. Mr. Lewis noted that their report misidentified the resident of 7940 Tioga. That resident, Monica Wooding, has denied the contention in the report that the police showed her Mr. Miles' face or asked her if she knew him.

The officers started their defense with David Wright, the city police bureau's lead defensive tactics instructor.

"The difficult part of police work is the officer has to make quick decisions," he told the eight-member jury. "If the officer doesn't make a quick decision, their life may be taken."

Mr. Lewis, used the opportunity to show that the officers are well-trained fighters.

Officer Wright owns a gym, he testified, where Officer Saldutte teaches the Israeli martial art krav maga. Officer Ewing, Mr. Lewis said, studied martial arts for four years as part of the Marine Corps and is a Facebook friend of Officer Wright.

"You do not strike or use force on a subject that is under control, in custody and not able to resist," said Mr. Lewis. "Isn't that the golden rule?"

"Yes, sir," said Officer Wright.

The trial is set to resume Monday.


Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542 First Published July 27, 2012 4:00 AM


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