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New Trial Begins in Civil Suit Against Officers Who Beat Up Performing Arts Student Jordan Miles


Photo: Post-Gazette

Photo: Post-Gazette

A new trial in the civil suit of Jordan Miles against three Pittsburgh police officers, Michael Saldutte, David Sissak and former officer Richard Ewing, began Tuesday.

A federal jury ruled in August 2012 that the officers had not maliciously prosecuted Miles after an incident which occurred on January 12, 2010.

The current trial and jury of eight – four white men and four white women – convened to address whether Miles’ civil rights were violated through wrongful arrest and use of excessive force.

Miles was arrested when the officers, working in plainclothes and driving an unmarked car, claimed he looked suspicious on that night around 11:00, walking from his mother’s home to his grandmother’s, one street over, in possession of what they claimed was a gun protruding from his pocket. Police later stated that the suspected gun was a soda bottle, both of which Miles denies having.

The officers, on post to monitor drug and crime activity, were part of a brawl that left then 18-year-old performing arts honor student, Miles, lying in a hospital bed badly bruised with his right eye swollen shut.

Miles, now 22, says the officers arrested him without cause and beat him.

The officers argue that Miles’ demeanor seemed suspect and the situation was heightened by his attempt to resist questioning.

A major uncertainty of the trial is whether Miles realized that the three men he scuffled with that night were police officers, or if he believed them to be the very likeness of the type of men the officers were on duty to ward off.

This question shaped the opening statements presented by the attorneys.

The attorney for the plaintiff, Robert Giroux argued, “They jumped to a wrong conclusion and brutally beat him. They found no drugs, no drug money and no weapon. They created a report to cover their tracks.”

Miles was afraid during the encounter and was not sure why three men were attacking him. He was trying to get away, Giroux said.

James Wymard, representing Officer David Sisak, contends that Miles is to blame for the incident escalating. He said the officers were simply doing their job, Miles’ failure to respond to questioning caused the officers to act on their suspicions.

“All he had to do was stop like any reasonable person would have done and we wouldn’t be here today. He knew they were police officers. He had no right to be resistive,” Wymard said. He added, “Three white guys in Homewood trying to put handcuffs on someone, who else could it be but police officers?”

After the opening statements, Jordan’s grandmother, Patricia Porter, a former teacher, was the first witness.

She recalled the phone call she received from her grandson from jail.

“He said, ‘I’m in jail. I’ve been arrested, but I just don’t know why,’” she said.

A new judge is presiding over the trial. U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster died and has been replaced by U.S. District Judge David Cercone.

Cercone reversed a ruling Lancaster made before the first trial allowing evidence to be presented of a gun magazine and bullets that were found where Miles was arrested. Days later, the evidence disappeared. The attorneys for the accused officers are claiming this evidence supports their fear that Miles had a weapon the night of his arrest. They also claim it was removed from the scene by members of Miles’ family. The plaintiffs argue that this evidence is intended to shift blame to Miles and relieve the officers of misconduct.

Porter was asked several questions about the magazine and bullets that were found, to which she had limited knowledge.

“I heard talk about” the magazine and bullets, said Ms. Porter.

“Do you know anything about how that may have disappeared?” Mr. Wymard asked.

Judge Cercone sustained an objection by Mr. Sansone.

Mr. Sansone asked Ms. Porter of her whereabouts the day after the incident. She said she only went from her home to the jail to pick up her grandson.

“You mean you weren’t…moving that clip?” he asked. Ms. Porter answered that she was not.

This trial is taking place in the midst of controversy regarding the stand your ground laws that have been the crutch in several incidents involving violence against Black males notably, Trayvon Martin.

Martin was fatally shot in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, who was acquitted of second-degree murder in 2013.

Pennsylvania is a stand your ground state that permits the use of force against force, even deadly. The state, however, does detail in its law, limitations for public officers acting in the performance of their duties.

The Miles trial is expected to last two weeks.

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