Jury says officers wrongfully arrested Miles, didn't use excessive force
A federal jury's split verdict that three white Pittsburgh police officers wrongfully arrested a black Homewood man but didn't use excessive force left both sides claiming victory but did little to settle who was right in an incident that inflamed racial tensions.
The verdict on Monday was the latest turn in the public controversy that surrounded the arrest of Jordan Miles since pictures of his bruised and swollen face surfaced shortly after his Jan. 12, 2010, arrest. The eight white jurors deliberated for 1½ days after 10 days of testimony in Miles' second civil rights trial, deciding the two issues the first jury could not.
“It's a victory on my behalf. The jurors found the police officers to be guilty, in at least one aspect, and that's all I really needed,” Miles said outside the federal courthouse, Downtown. “I'm satisfied these jurors were able to come to that conclusion and see that these police officers were wrong.”
Miles, 22, claimed that Officers Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and then-Officer Richard Ewing lacked probable cause, failed to identify themselves and used excessive force during his arrest.
The officers contend Miles was acting suspiciously and ran when they tried to question him. They claim he suffered most of his injuries when Sisak tackled him.
The officers showed no emotion as the court clerk read the verdict and declined comment as they left the courtroom. Miles' attorneys patted him on the shoulder.
The jury awarded Miles $101,016.75 in compensatory damages and $18,000 in punitive damages — $6,000 each — against the officers.
What he'll collect is unclear. Lawyers for the officers said it's not much of a victory for Miles.
The city, which was part of the initial lawsuit, settled with Miles for $75,000 before his first civil trial in 2012, leaving only the officers as defendants.
That amount would come out of the jury award, leaving the city about $44,000 to pay, said Michael Kennedy, a lawyer for the city. But because the city offered $180,000 to settle the case in June 2011 — more than the jury awarded — it can by federal rule bill Miles for the money it spent preparing for both trials.
The cost doesn't include attorney fees, but does include expert witness fees and other costs, Kennedy said.
“It's not going to be 10 to 15 grand, it's going to be a lot more than that,” he said.
Miles' attorney, Joel Sansone, declined to discuss questions related to the settlement offer.
“Jordan Miles did not care at all about what amount was awarded. The only thing he wanted to hear was that they did the wrong thing and Jordan heard that in this courtroom and I will tell you this: He is satisfied,” Sansone said. “You realize that a six-figure verdict, while it may not seem much to some, is a lot of money. It's a lot of money for people to award against police officers who said they didn't do anything wrong.”
Lawyers on both sides claimed victory.
“Monetarily, this is a win for the defense, a big win, and for the city of Pittsburgh,” said Sisak's attorney, James Wymard. “This jury chose to find a very minor amount and awarded what we think is a minor amount against the officers.”
“Clearly, this was a compromise verdict,” said Ewing's attorney, Robert Leight. “All along, the excessive force was the charge we were most concerned about. That's where the damages were incurred by Mr. Miles. Clearly, the jury found for the officers on that count.”
Sansone said the verdict showed that the jury believed Miles was not at fault.
“The jury's verdict reflects the fact that these police officers broke the rules, arrested my client and violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment,” Sansone said. “I cannot explain the jury's failure to find excessive force. It remains a mystery.”
Two legal experts said the split verdict means that neither side has clear vindication.
“It was obviously a case that caused the jury a lot of concern,” said Bruce Antkowiak, head of the criminology and law program at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. “It doesn't sound like the jury was absolutely compelled one way or the other.”
David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, said the jury seemed to decide that the officers made a mistake in arresting Miles but that once he ran, they pursued his arrest in good faith.
“That's the way the jury has to have been thinking,” he said.
Harris said the verdict doesn't ease the lingering tension between the police and the black community the arrest caused. If neither side appeals the decision for economic reasons, it will leave that unresolved, he said.
Kennedy said any decision on an appeal would be made upon a review of several factors, including how much it would cost.
The trial left Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 President Officer Howard McQuillan with mixed emotions.
“I'm disappointed that the case went this far but glad our officers and their families can finally put this behind them and move on,” he said.
Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement, “Events one night in Homewood four years ago have echoed through our city, our neighborhoods and our police force ever since. It has changed at least four lives forever, but it hurt us all in some way. Our community must start healing, and must start rebuilding the trust we must have for safe communities and a better police force. I am ready to start that now.”
Staff writer Jason Cato contributed. Brian Bowling and Bobby Kerlik are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach Bowling at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach Kerlik at 412-320-7886 or email@example.com.
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