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Tangles unfold in Miles civil rights case

| Tuesday, July 17, 2012, 10:22 a.m.

Jurors in a federal civil-rights lawsuit against three Pittsburgh police officers got an introduction on Tuesday to the tangle of conflicting accounts of a Homewood man's arrest that they will be asked to unravel during the next few weeks.

A lawyer for Jordan Miles, 20, of Homewood, who says the officers beat him during the 2010 arrest, presented his opening arguments, as did lawyers for two of the three officers.

The lawyer for the third officer is scheduled to make his opening argument on Wednesday.

Miles' attorneys then will start calling witnesses, starting with Miles' grandmother, Patricia Porter, and his girlfriend, Jamiah Anderson.

J. Kerrington Lewis, one of Miles' lawyers, said the evidence will show that his client, who is black, was doing nothing but walking down the street, talking on his cell phone with Anderson as he headed to his grandmother's house a block away when officers Michael Saldutte, Richard Ewing and David Sisak, all of whom are white, stopped him on Jan. 12, 2010.

The police had no reason to question Miles, an honors student, much less pursue and beat him to the point that he was hospitalized and suffers permanent brain damage, Lewis said.

“The evidence of the violence and savagery of this beating is medically documented,” he said.

James Wymard, the lawyer representing Sisak, told jurors the evidence will show that Miles' suspicious behavior and flight gave them a reason to apprehend him.

Saldutte spotted then-honors student Miles between two houses and leaning in toward an unlit house in a burglary-prone neighborhood, Wymard said.

Miles ran when Saldutte asked him what he was doing in between the houses, Wymard said. In the ensuing struggle, Miles used an elbow strike to knock down Saldutte and a donkey kick to Sisak's knee to disable him.

“(He's) 150 pounds, but he's 150 pounds of dynamite,” Wymard said.

Lewis pointed out to jurors that each of the police officers is taller than Miles, who is 5 feet 7 inches, and outweighs Miles by at least 50 pounds of muscle. Two are martial-arts instructors, he said.

“Any one of those men could take two Jordans down by himself,” Lewis said.

Bryan Campbell, the lawyer representing Saldutte, took jurors through the levels of force that police officers are allowed to use in response to levels of resistance regarding suspects. What Miles' attorneys refer to as “mindless brutality” is the officers escalating their use of force as Miles offered more resistance, he said.

“We say that force was used, but only until he was handcuffed,” Campbell said.

Miles claims in his lawsuit that Sisak, Saldutte and Ewing violated his civil rights by using excessive force, making a false arrest and then maliciously prosecuting on charges of assault, escape, loitering and prowling.

A district judge dismissed the charges against Miles, and the city put the officers on leave during investigations, which ended with announcements by prosecutors that neither state nor federal criminal charges would be filed against them. The officers are back on duty.

The city has settled Miles' claims against it for $75,000. As part of the settlement, the city also agreed to pay any damages that the jury would award to Miles.

The jury consists of six jurors and two alternate jurors. Lawyers for both sides selected them from 65 people whom the court called for jury duty from 13 counties in Western Pennsylvania. One juror is black, five are men and three are women.

In anticipation of jurors seeing graphic photos of Miles' injured face the day after his arrest, Wymard claimed the swelling was mostly because of Miles falling headfirst through a hedge and striking branches when Sisak tackled him.

He argued that Miles' brain damage was caused by his head hitting the ground first when he slipped on the sidewalk in attempting to flee and then hitting the ground again when he was tackled.

Lewis told jurors the brain damage was caused by one officer hitting Miles with a hard object on the right side of his forehead as he tried to pull his head out of the snow while he was handcuffed.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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