Judge in Jordan Miles case limits some evidence, testimony
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U.S. District Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster ruled today on more than 20 motions in advance of the civil trial stemming from Jordan Miles' 2010 encounter with Pittsburgh police, finding that evidence on the backgrounds of the plaintiff and the three defendant officers can be introduced only for impeachment or rebuttal.
Jury selection starts Monday in the case, in which Mr. Miles said police failed to identify themselves and then chased and beat him, while the officers said they thought he had a gun. Since mid-June, attorneys for both sides have filed dueling motions to exclude evidence that they believe is unfair to their side.
Judge Lancaster ruled that the plaintiffs can bring in evidence and testimony of past accusations against the officers only to rebut the officers' testimony on how they handled their encounter with Mr. Miles.
The defense won't be able to bring in evidence of school discipline of Mr. Miles for fighting in 8th grade, unless they have to use it to contradict something he says on the witness stand. They can use Mr. Miles' Facebook posts to challenge his claims of mental and emotional distress since the encounter.
Mr. Miles' attorneys can tell the jury that charges against him were dismissed by a district judge.
The defense will be allowed to show a two-minute video reenactment of the encounter, but the judge will tell the jury that its only purpose is to demonstrate the mechanics of the donkey kick police said Mr. Miles delivered.
The defense will be allowed to bring in several police veterans to testify to the training the officers received.
Both sides will be allowed to bring in experts on police procedure and economists to debate Mr. Miles' reduced earnings potential. But the defense won't be able to use an expert hired by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. when he was considering whether to file criminal charges against the officers.
Treating physicians for Mr. Miles and for Officer David Sisak, who was hurt in the scuffle with Mr. Miles, will be permitted.
Mr. Miles, now 20, attended the pretrial conference but declined comment afterward.
Not yet ruled on is a motion filed by Mr. Miles' attorneys today to bar any claim by the officers that they found and discarded a Mountain Dew bottle after they subdued him on an icy Homewood sidewalk.
The bottle is an important part of the case, because police have said they mistook it for a gun, found it after a struggle with Mr. Miles,and discarded it. Mr. Miles has said it didn't exist.
"[Pittsburgh Police] Chief Nathan Harper as well as other supervisory personnel has testified that the seizure of the bottle incident to arrest was in fact evidence which required preservation and delivery to the City's evidence depository," wrote attorney J. Kerrington Lewis, representing Mr. Miles.
If any bottle existed, then the police act of discarding it precludes Mr. Miles from testing it for DNA or challenging police testimony on how it sat in his coat pocket, Mr. Lewis wrote. If police are not barred from testifying that they found a bottle, then Judge Lancaster should at least tell the jury that "any evidence regarding the bottle would be unfavorable to" the officers, Mr. Lewis wrote.
Attorney Bryan Campbell, representing Officer Michael Saldutte, countered in a response filed today that the dispute over the bottle is "one of the essential and central factual disputes for the jury to resolve." He also noted that Mr. Miles' motion comes around three weeks after the deadline for pretrial motions, and just a week before the scheduled start of jury selection.
The judge issued an order late Friday saying that the questioning of individual prospective jurors for the trial will also be held behind closed doors because of the media attention to the case and the relevance of racial attitudes. Mr. Miles is black, while Officer Saldutte, Officer Sisak and Officer Richard Ewing are white.
Questioning of the jurors as a group will be held publicly.
Mr. Miles was then an 18-year-old senior at Pittsburgh's School of the Creative and Performing Arts, walked from his mother's house to his grandmother's house on Tioga Street in Homewood. He has said the officers did not identify themselves, chased him down and beat him.
The officers said he disobeyed orders to stop and then fought with them.
Both federal and county prosecutors found insufficient evidence to prosecute the officers. The city settled the portion of the case against it, but would still have to pay any monetary verdict against the officers.
First Published July 9, 2012 1:34 pm