Lawyers give different stories in Miles case
Pittsburgh police officers Michael Saldutte, left, and Richard Ewing arrive Tuesday at the U.S. District Court.
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Jordan Miles was "a soft-spoken, mannered, respectable and kind young man," who was beaten with "savagery" by Pittsburgh police officers to the point of permanent brain damage, his attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, told a jury Tuesday during opening arguments in the 20-year-old Homewood man's civil case.
No, Jordan Miles is "150 pounds of dynamite" who made the mistake of running from and fighting with three brave officers and suffered "no broken bones, no sutures, no scarring," but just "twigs" in his face, James Wymard, attorney for Officer David Sisak, told the jury.
Those were the photo negative images presented as the region's most controversial police abuse allegation in years began to unfold in U.S. District Court. The principals were in stark contrast, with the African-American Mr. Miles, 20, dressed in a white suit, and the three young officers, all Caucasian, in dark suits.
And their stories?
"The two versions given are like night and day," said Bryan Campbell, attorney for Officer Michael Saldutte.
Today, the eight-member jury selected will hear witnesses, likely to start with Mr. Miles' grandmother, Patricia Porter, and a girlfriend from his school days named Jamiah Anderson with whom he said he was on the phone in the minutes before his encounter with police.
Tuesday, though, was all about setting the stage for a trial expected to last at least two weeks and to focus not just on three raucous minutes from 11:05 to 11:08 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010, but also on the credibility of the young man who was a high school student at the time, and the three officers who left the academy together in 2005.
Homewood was riddled with crime, Mr. Lewis noted. "But Jordan chose a different path. He wasn't a problem. He was good.
"He played viola. ... He played in the orchestra."
On the night in question, Mr. Miles was just trying to walk from his mother's house, where he spent some time, to his grandmother's, a block away, where he typically slept, Mr. Lewis said. A car pulled up in front of him, and men started jumping out.
"The driver yelled, 'Where's the drugs? Where's the money?' " Mr. Lewis said, adding that Mr. Miles, naturally, ran.
Mr. Wymard presented Mr. Sisak, Mr. Saldutte and fellow Officer Richard Ewing as public servants who worked plainclothes trying to solve "robberies, rapes, burglaries, drugs, homicides, assaults ... a very, very difficult job."
When Mr. Saldutte saw somebody leaning up against a dark house, he said, "Clearly, it would appear suspicious."
Mr. Miles admitted to the officer that it wasn't his house, Mr. Wymard said. "Officer Saldutte says, 'Then what are you doing sneaking around that house?' ... His response was not to answer. It was to bolt, to take off."
Mr. Wymard said that Mr. Miles must have realized that the men were police. "Only thing he had to do was stop on the sidewalk [when ordered to do so], and we wouldn't be here today."
Mr. Lewis contrasted Mr. Miles' 5-foot-7, 150-pound frame with the three officers, all around 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. Two of them, he noted, had martial arts training.
Mr. Miles, he said, "was no match for one of those men, let alone three.
"They delivered blows on this kid, head to foot."
And yet Mr. Miles managed to elbow Mr. Saldutte in the head and to fell Mr. Sisak with a donkey kick, said Mr. Wymard. That, he said, was reason enough to try to arrest him, and when the officers felt a hard object in his coat they understandably assumed it was a gun. Only a knee strike by Officer Ewing ended his resistance.
Mr. Lewis said the hard object, which police have said was a Mountain Dew bottle, was actually part of a "fairy tale" they concocted to defend their actions.
The results of the encounter also were presented differently.
"The police in this case used deadly force to the point where they beat this young man to where he was unrecognizable," Mr. Lewis said. "Nobody can give him back the mind that he had before."
The injuries, said Mr. Wymard, occurred mostly because Mr. Sisak tackled Mr. Miles into a bush, causing twigs to embed in his face and spurring infections.
"They took a picture two weeks later of Jordan Miles on his front porch," he said. "There's no swelling, no deformity, like nothing happened, two weeks later."
Mr. Ewing's attorney, Robert Leight, is expected to make his introduction to the jury today.
Mr. Miles' team is prepared to argue that his lifetime earnings potential has been reduced by millions of dollars due to his injuries. The city has paid $75,000 to settle charges that it did not properly train and supervise the officers, but is also paying part of Mr. Wymard's fee and would have to pay any verdict awarded.
The jury of five men and three women includes one black man. They were chosen after a process of around eight hours that included behind-closed-doors questioning on panelists' attitudes toward race and law enforcement.
First Published July 18, 2012 12:00 am