Jordan Miles gives his version of police beating
Jordan Miles enters the Federal Courthouse.
Kielan Miles, 18, right, the sister of Jordan Miles, and Tim Stevens, left, head of the Black Political Empowerment Project, listen outside the federal courthouse Thursday to Brandi Fisher, center, talk about Mr. Miles' testimony against the police officers who he said beat him.
Pittsburgh police officers Michael Saldutte, left, and Richard Ewing arrive Tuesday at the U.S. District Court.
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Jordan Miles finally had his say Thursday in the region's most contentious police abuse trial since the 1990s, but if attorneys for three accused officers have their way, his case could snap under the weight of a twig.
The 20-year-old Homewood man took the stand in U.S. District Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster's courtroom, as Pittsburgh officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak looked on. Never charged criminally, they are accused of falsely arresting, beating and maliciously prosecuting Mr. Miles, in a case that has inflamed passions and could cost the city if a jury believes his claims.
In a calm monotone, his face consistently turned toward the jury, Mr. Miles described what he called the most terrifying night of his life. Defense attorneys later pinned him down on what they said is a key point: the location of events, which he said took place several feet from hedges, despite the fact that he ended up with branch shards embedded in his mouth.
Mr. Miles said that on the night of Jan. 12, 2010, he left his mother's house for his grandmother's, where he usually slept, around 11 p.m. He said he carried only his phone on which he talked with a friend, a wallet, keys, iPod and disconnected Bluetooth device. He denied having a Mountain Dew bottle that police said they mistook for a gun.
He walked in Tioga Street because the sidewalk was icy. A car came down the middle of the street toward him, its passengers darkly dressed.
"I believed I was going to get hit," he said. "The car stopped. And I remember the driver's door and the passenger's door opened."
Three white males got out, he said. "And I heard, 'Where's your gun, money and drugs?' ... I immediately dropped the phone where I was standing. I turned around and tried to run home to my mother's house.
"I thought I was about to be robbed. ... I said, 'Chill, stop.' "
He took a few steps, slipped on ice and broke his fall with his hands, he said. Someone -- he thought it was Officer Saldutte -- jumped on his back.
Several times he managed to partly raise himself, he said, but he was forced back on his stomach. "It felt as if I was being hit everywhere on my body at the same time."
Eventually his arms were wrenched behind him and he was handcuffed, he said. "I began to say my prayers."
But someone, he said, ordered him to " 'shut up,' and forced my head into the snow."
He said he prayed again but was told, "'Didn't he say shut up?' And he pushed my face back into the snow."
He removed his head again, he said, and "was struck on the right side of my head by a very, very hard object. ... I gave up trying to get my head out of the snow."
"That was a particularly disturbing piece," said Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, who has been in the gallery since the trial started. "Apparently, a lot of the beating took place while he was handcuffed on the ground."
The officers have said they identified themselves and sought to talk with Mr. Miles because he was loitering suspiciously around a dark house at night. They have said that when he ran, they mistook a bulge in his coat for a gun, and endured elbows and kicks in the process of handcuffing Mr. Miles. They said all force stopped after he was handcuffed.
James Malloy, past president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, who has also watched much of the trial, said that hearing such testimony "is difficult on these [officers] because they had to endure this [suspicion] for two years.
"There are parts of it, I'm sure, that they completely disagree with," he said. "The only people who know what took place is the four of them."
When uniformed police arrived, Mr. Miles was overjoyed, he said, because he believed he was being rescued. But then they put him in their wagon -- the point, he said, when he realized his assailants were plainclothes officers.
The officers' attorneys didn't buy it.
"Even though those three white men were trying to put handcuffs on you, you still thought you were being robbed and abducted?" asked an incredulous attorney James Wymard, representing Officer Sisak.
"Yes, I did," said Mr. Miles.
"What I am saying is, it was obvious they were police officers," Mr. Wymard said later.
"It was not obvious," Mr. Miles said. "I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't know of any cops that would behave in that manner."
Officer Sisak has said that he tackled Mr. Miles through a bush. On the stand, Mr. Miles repeatedly denied any memory of that.
Mr. Wymard asked how Mr. Miles could have ended up with at least two shards of twig embedded in his mouth when he claims to have been tackled and cuffed in a front yard, not in the bushes that flank it.
"My face was forced into the ground" near a bush, Mr. Miles said. He added that he didn't know that there was a twig stuck in his gum until later, at West Penn Hospital, when he complained of mouth pain and a doctor removed the shard. Weeks later, a second fragment worked its way out of his lip, he said.
Mr. Miles said he's now working two retail jobs for about $8 an hour. Two failed tries at college have led him to believe he's not ready for that.
"I've noticed a difference in my level of cognition," he said, "and my ability to recall and remember things.
"Emotionally, I'm not the same as I used to be," he added, noting that he's withdrawn and quick to anger.
Mr. Wymard portrayed Mr. Miles' testimony as the product of coaching. Mr. Miles confirmed to the jury that he hired attorney J. Kerrington Lewis within weeks of the encounter but said he has never been told what to say.
Mr. Miles also said that he resisted becoming a poster child for civil rights. However, the Alliance for Police Accountability gathered some two dozen protesters to call for a criminal prosecution of the officers -- something federal and county prosecutors have ruled out.
After testifying, Mr. Miles would say only that he "might just sleep" all weekend.
Charges of aggravated assault, resisting arrest, escape and loitering against Mr. Miles were dismissed at a preliminary hearing after Monica Wooding, in whose front yard the encounter occurred, denied telling the officers that she didn't know the young man. She is expected to testify Monday.
Attorneys for the officers are seeking the judge's permission to quiz her on the witness stand about two 1990s convictions, for drug possession and simple assault. Mr. Miles' attorney said they aren't relevant and shouldn't be mentioned. The judge hasn't ruled on their motions.
First Published July 20, 2012 12:00 am