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Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Lawyer: White Pa. cops thought man was black punk
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A young man was wrongfully beaten and arrested by three white police officers because they assumed he "was some black drug-dealing punk," his attorney said Thursday, while the officers' lawyers contended that the man was prowling near a house with what appeared to be a gun.
Jordan Miles was an 18-year-old senior at Pittsburgh's performing arts high school with no criminal record when he was arrested late Jan. 12, 2012 by officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak. He was charged with assaulting police, loitering and prowling at night, resisting arrest and escape.
After hearing closing arguments from lawyers for Miles and the officers, the jury began deliberating whether the policemen had violated Miles' civil rights that frigid, snowy night. If they find that the officers' did, they will also determine damages. The jurors ended deliberations late Thursday afternoon and will return Friday morning.
Miles, now 20, said police used excessive force — choking him and hitting him in the head with a hard object after he was handcuffed — while wrongfully arresting and maliciously prosecuting him. A district justice who doubted police claims dismissed charges against him.
The officers said Miles was prowling near a neighbor's house with a bulge in his jacket pocket, which the policemen thought was a gun but later determined was a soda bottle. Miles said he wasn't prowling and didn't even have the soda bottle that police say they found in his jacket before throwing it away.
Miles is seeking unspecified damages. An economist testified on Miles' behalf that he would lose more than $1 million in lifetime earnings if he can't finish college because of the cognitive problems that Miles' attorneys and doctors say he has suffered.
"They thought he was some black drug-dealing punk and they were going to take him down," Miles' attorney J. Kerrington Lewis said of the officers. He said they were in plainclothes and in an unmarked car when they approached Miles while working a special detail targeting the highest-crime area in the city.
"And they've taken him down for the rest of his life," Lewis said.
James Wymard, Sisak's attorney, insisted that Miles was near a home and, though he appeared to the officers to be prowling, might have assumed the car was carrying gang members and had been trying to hide.
"It's sad. He's a victim of circumstances," Wymard said.
Still, Wymard contends, the officers couldn't know why Miles was near the house and stopped him because they were rightly suspicious. Wymard said Saldutte calmly asked Miles where he lived and why he was "sneaking around" before Miles ran. The officers caught Miles and acknowledged kneeing and punching him but only to get him handcuffed and to keep him from grabbing what they thought was a gun in his pocket. They deny using any force after Miles was handcuffed.
The officers also deny Miles' claim that he was walking to his grandmother's house with a cellphone to his ear, even though phone records suggest he was at the time and the girl he said he was speaking to heard Miles yell, "Stop! Chill!"
Miles said he yelled when the officers rushed up to him without identifying themselves and asked whether he had guns, drugs or money. Miles said he was startled and assumed he was being robbed. His lawyer said that approach was sometimes used by other city officers to intimidate potential drug suspects.
Wymard said the notion that Miles didn't recognize the trio as police officers was "preposterous."
Lewis said the officers' assumptions about Miles were betrayed when his drug test came back negative, causing them to "fabricate" the existence of the soda bottle and other details to justify their actions after the fact.
"They figured it would all work out. That's why they asked for the drug test," Lewis said. "But it didn't work out. It didn't work out at all because (Miles) is a good kid."