Judge rules on 20 motions in Jordan Miles case
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The civil trial stemming from the 2010 encounter between Jordan Miles and Pittsburgh police could become a three-week legal slugfest focusing on the backgrounds of the plaintiff and the officers, proper procedures and the presence or absence of a Mountain Dew bottle on a frozen night on Homewood's Tioga Street.
U.S. District Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster ruled Monday on more than 20 motions filed in advance of the trial, for which jury selection starts next Monday. Looking over the witness list at a pretrial conference, he urged attorneys to narrow their efforts.
"Right now, there's like half of Allegheny County listed here," he said.
The issues are simple: Did police identify themselves to Mr. Miles? Did they see a bulge in his coat caused by a Mountain Dew bottle and believe it was a gun? Did he knowingly fight the police?
How those issues play out could be complex.
Since mid-June, attorneys for both sides have filed dueling motions to exclude evidence that they believe is unfair to their side, and Judge Lancaster on Monday ruled on all but one of them.
He will allow Mr. Miles' attorneys to bring in evidence and testimony of past accusations against the officers but only to rebut the officers' testimony on how they handled the encounter in January 2010.
Attorney Timothy O'Brien, representing Mr. Miles, said he has "witnesses who will testify to instances in which [the officers] did not identify themselves" during an arrest.
Attorney James Wymard, representing Officer David Sisak, said he might bring in witnesses to show that the officers do regularly identify themselves when stopping people.
The defense won't be able to bring in evidence of school discipline of Mr. Miles for fighting in eighth grade, except to contradict anything he might say on the witness stand. The defense 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 -- something attorneys for the officers had opposed.
The officers' attorneys will be allowed to show a two-minute video re-enactment they made of the encounter, but the judge will tell the jury that its only purpose is to demonstrate the mechanics of the donkey kick that police said Mr. Miles delivered.
The defense will be allowed to bring in several police veterans to testify to the training the officers received.
And 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 Sisak, who was hurt in the scuffle with Mr. Miles, can testify.
Still pending is a motion filed Monday by Mr. Miles' attorneys to bar any claim by the officers that they found and discarded a Mountain Dew bottle at the scene. Police said they mistook it for a gun, but Mr. Miles has said it didn't exist.
"The police decided to toss the bottle away," attorney J. Kerrington Lewis, representing Mr. Miles, said after the conference. That act prevents Mr. Miles' side from examining any such bottle for DNA or studying what it would look like under his coat, and the defense should not be able to benefit from the destruction of evidence, he said.
Attorney Bryan Campbell, representing Officer Michael Saldutte, countered in a written response also filed Monday 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 about three weeks after the deadline for pretrial motions.
The judge issued an order late Friday saying that the questioning of individual prospective jurors for the trial will be held behind closed doors because of the media attention to the case and the relevance of racial attitudes. Mr. Miles is black; officers Saldutte, Sisak and Richard Ewing are white.
Questioning of the jurors as a group will be held publicly.
The encounter became a focus of police-community tensions.
At the time of the incident, Mr. Miles was an 18-year-old senior at Pittsburgh's School of the Creative and Performing Arts. He has said he was walking from his mother's house to his grandmother's house when three men jumped from an unmarked car, chased him and beat him.
Mr. Lewis said that Mr. Miles is "going to be plagued with this for the rest of his life." Memory loss has prevented his client from completing more than a semester of college, he said.
The officers' account of the incident, he said, "is going to be one that's hard to accept in a real-life situation."
Attorneys for the officers declined comment, saying they wanted to study a transcript of the pretrial conference.
Mr. Miles, now 20, attended the pretrial conference but declined comment afterward.
Federal and county prosecutors each found insufficient evidence to prosecute the officers. The city settled the portion of the case against it for $75,000 but still would have to pay any verdict against the officers.
First Published July 10, 2012 12:00 am