Police, civilian give testimony in Jordan Miles' lawsuit
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The police chief backed his men, but a woman's pivotal testimony undercut them during the fourth day of testimony in the Jordan Miles civil trial.
The 20-year-old plaintiff's team was counting on Monica Wooding, a 37-year-old home health aide, to contradict police claims that she denied knowing Mr. Miles immediately following the Jan. 12, 2010, incident that spurred the lawsuit. She testified Tuesday that she didn't even know he had been arrested until days later.
"Whoever was going to jail was already in the paddy wagon when I opened my window," she said.
Mr. Miles testified last week that he was walking on Tioga Street, in front of Ms. Wooding's house, when police pulled an unmarked car in front of him, jumped out, chased him down and beat him.
Pittsburgh officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak have said they identified themselves as police when they saw him sneaking around Ms. Wooding's house, he ran, and they only used force because they mistook a bottle for a gun and he resisted.
Their reports indicated that they showed Mr. Miles to Ms. Wooding, and she denied knowing him or permitting him to be on her property. But Ms. Wooding testified at a March 2010 preliminary hearing that she did not deny knowing Mr. Miles, which resulted in charges against him being dropped.
Attorney James Wymard, representing Officer Sisak, had Ms. Wooding confirm that the officer asked her, three times, if somebody had tried to break into her house.
Mr. Wymard also asked Ms. Wooding if she had been persuaded to change her story to help out Mr. Miles, a neighbor with whose family she is friendly. "Now, that part is incorrect," she protested.
To bolster the officers' contentions that they tackled Mr. Miles through bushes and trash cans, Mr. Wymard showed Ms. Wooding photos of broken shrubs in her front yard. He also had her confirm that her trash cans were out of place when she looked out of the window.
Earlier, under questioning by attorney J. Kerrington Lewis, who represents Mr. Miles, city police Chief Nate Harper said he hadn't known that Officer Sisak lost a flashlight in the incident.
"That flashlight very well could've been the hard object," with which Mr. Miles has said he was hit, Mr. Lewis said later.
"For the chief not to know that, for it not to be in any reports -- that is very interesting," said Brandi Fisher, chair of the Alliance for Police Accountability, who watched the chief's testimony.
She said she wasn't surprised that the rest of Chief Harper's testimony seemed to back the officers.
The chief said that in his bureau's estimation, there was reason to suspect Mr. Miles of prowling, his own actions prompted the police response and there were no violations of bureau regulations in the incident.
Mr. Lewis argued to Chief Harper that the police officers' account of the incident makes no sense.
The officers contend that Mr. Miles made moves characteristic of efforts to conceal a gun in his pocket. Mr. Lewis asked why he would do such things if he had nothing, as he claims, or had a Mountain Dew bottle, as the officers have said.
That prompted vigorous objections from the officers' attorneys.
U.S. District Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster rephrased the question. "Have you ever seen a situation in which someone who was being assaulted who thought, 'I could really use a cold drink right now?' " he asked.
"No, sir," said Chief Harper.
Mr. Miles' police procedure expert told the jury that if the officers handcuffed the young man, and then choked him or hit him with a hard object, then "that's abuse."
"You don't do it," said that expert, R. Paul McCauley, former chief of police in Highspire, near Harrisburg. "With three officers present? No, there's no reason to use a choke."
Tempers flared at times. Mr. Wymard upbraided Mr. Miles' team for talking during his cross-examination. One of Mr. Miles' attorneys, Timothy O'Brien, said he was tired of Mr. Wymard pointing a finger in his face.
Judge Lancaster repeatedly called the attorneys to sidebars in what appeared to be an effort to streamline the trial.
The trial is the only public airing of the incident that has ignited police accountability concerns. U.S. Attorney David Hickton and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. opted not to charge the officers.
First Published July 25, 2012 12:00 am