Shrub evidence supports police version in Miles case
Jordan Miles enters the Federal Courthouse.
Pittsburgh police officers Michael Saldutte, left, and Richard Ewing arrive Tuesday at the U.S. District Court.
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Hair in a bush dominated the seventh day of testimony in the Jordan Miles civil trial Monday.
Two Homewood residents told an eight-member jury that on Jan. 13, 2010, they came out of their Tioga Street home and noticed blood in the snow and braids in the broken shrubbery where Mr. Miles and three Pittsburgh police officers tussled the night before. That bolstered the officers' accounts of a tackle through the hedgerow which are also backed by twigs found embedded in the young man's gums.
"It did happen that way," Officer David Sisak said, in testimony that is expected to continue today. "That's why he had those sticks in his mouth."
Mr. Miles' legal team used cross-examination to argue that the then-student did nothing to warrant a beating they said rose to deadly force.
Showing a photo of the swollen post-encounter face of Mr. Miles to police Sgt. Charles Henderson, the plaintiff's attorney Timothy O'Brien asked: "Tell me what would happen to any parent who beat their child until he looked like that under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
"Depending on the circumstances, they would be arrested," said Sgt. Henderson.
Mr. Miles was arrested by officers David Sisak, Richard Ewing and Michael Saldutte after they said they saw him near 7940 Tioga. They said they mistook a Mountain Dew bottle in his coat pocket for a gun, tried to arrest him, were assaulted by him and wrestled him into handcuffs.
Mr. Miles, now 20, testified that they never identified themselves as police and beat him before and after handcuffing him. He has said he didn't have a bottle.
No charges were filed against the officers, and charges against Mr. Miles were dismissed.
Officer Sisak, 32, a Murrysville native who graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and joined the city police in 2005, said that on the night in question he was looking for signs of drug sales on Tioga. Officer Saldutte spotted Mr. Miles, who said that he didn't live near the house by which he was seen. "I'm real suspicious as to what he was doing if he doesn't live there, at 11 o'clock at night," Officer Sisak said.
Mr. Miles ran, and Officer Saldutte pursued him, grabbing him before taking an elbow to the head, Officer Sisak said.
Officer Sisak tried to shock Mr. Miles with a Taser, but that didn't work. "When I tackled him, I hit him hard," he said. "I'm on top of him. ... Kind of ride him through the bushes." They landed on broken concrete on the other side of the hedges, he said.
Officer Sisak said that Mr. Miles then kicked him in the knee, taking him out of the struggle. He said he didn't see much of what ensued before Mr. Miles was handcuffed, other than Officer Ewing "kind of like riding on [Mr. Miles'] back."
Patricia Coleman, a hospital secretary who lives at 7938 Tioga, and her son A-Ron Roberts, both testified that on Jan. 13, 2010, they found hair tufts and blood around the bushes.
They also said that Mr. Miles was not a troublemaker. In a boost to the plaintiff's case, they said that Mr. Miles didn't cut between houses on his way from his mother's house to his grandmother's a block away. That undercut one theory on why he might have been alongside 7940 Tioga, a claim of the officers that the plaintiff's team denies.
Sgt. Henderson said he visited Mr. Miles at a hospital in the hours after the incident.
"I asked Mr. Miles what had happened, and he said that he was in a fight with police," the sergeant said. "He said he was scared and did not want to go to jail. ... At one point he said that he was afraid he was going to be robbed."
Mr. O'Brien quizzed Sgt. Henderson on why there wasn't a more thorough initial probe of what some have called a use of deadly force by police.
Sgt. Henderson said the use of force was not deadly and was appropriate. "The force that's needed to get them into custody, that's the force that's used."
Mr. O'Brien asked whether a strike to the head was deadly force.
"No," said Sgt. Henderson. "Half the mothers in the city would be in jail" if that was considered deadly force.
Ryan Allen, 19, a former high school friend of Mr. Miles, was called by the defense. He was asked whether Mr. Miles told him, two days after the incident, that he was carrying a Mountain Dew bottle at the time. An FBI agent's report suggests that such a conversation occurred.
Mr. Allen, though, testified that he did not remember Mr. Miles telling him about a bottle, didn't remember telling the agent about the conversation and couldn't recall whether Mr. Miles drank Mountain Dew.
Officer Saldutte testified last week and Officer Ewing has not yet testified.
First Published July 31, 2012 12:00 am