The critical issue in the civil court trial pitting Jordan Miles against three police officers is credibility and comes down to who is to be believed.
That was argued by both sides in closing arguments in the case. An attorney for the defense asked the jury of four white men and four white women to use their common sense. Miles’ attorney, Joel Sansone, asked for the same.
The three officers were working in Homewood in January 2010. They are charged with wrongful arrest and use of excessive force in an incident that left then 18-year-old Miles battered.
Attorneys for officers David Sisak, Michael Saldutte and Richard Ewing contend Miles is lying about the night’s encounter. Miles’ attorney said it’s the police officers who are lying in an effort to cover up what he called an “oh shoot” moment on the part of the officers, meaning they knew they’d messed up and needed probable cause for the arrest and beating, so they fabricated one.
Miles was walking from his mother’s house to his grandmother’s house on the night in question. He said he was walking in the middle of the street when a car approached him and three white men jumped out at him demanding his guns, drugs and money. The officers were in plain clothes and were in an unmarked car. Miles’ version of the story is that the men tackled him to the ground and beat him, never identifying themselves as police officers. He said they kicked, punched and beat him with a flashlight, even after he was handcuffed. He was left bruised, swollen and missing chunks of his hair after the incident.
The officers’ version of the story is completely different. They said Miles was hovering between houses and looked suspicious. They said they identified themselves as police officers, and that Miles tried to flee, but fell on some ice. When he continued to try running, the officers said they tackled him through some bushes (which they said tore out his hair) and landed on some rocks. That, they said, is how Miles sustained the bulk of his injuries.
Sisak’s attorney, Jim Wymard, described Homewood as the most dangerous neighborhood in Pennsylvania, calling it “home of the drive-by, home of the gang-bangers,” and he said that the officers had probable cause to stop Miles because of a string of robberies in the area. The officers contend Miles kicked and attacked them, so they were justified in using force back. At least one of the men said Miles knocked him on his back in the snow.
Miles’ attorney, Sansone, described Miles as a good kid who’d never been in trouble with the law. He questioned how an 18-year-old kid could take down huge police officers who are trained in defensive tactics and the martial arts.
“Suddenly, this night he becomes a ninja?” said Sansone of Miles.
Defense attorneys maintain Miles is stronger than he looks, they showed off photos from his old MySpace page where he is flexing, showing off muscles and calling himself “Bulky J.” Plus, the three officers maintain they thought Miles was armed.
They said a bulge in his coat could have been a weapon, but it was later found to be a Mountain Dew bottle. But, Miles said he never had a bottle on him and doesn’t drink soda. The officers threw the bottle away, because they said it wasn’t evidence. Miles’ attorney disagreed and said the bottle could have proved that Miles was carrying something that could have been mistaken as a weapon.
Wymard said the only version of the night’s events that make sense is the officers’ version and asked the jury why the men would stop Miles for no reason and not identify themselves, which goes against their training.
Sansone countered that they used a “jump out” technique that is designed to surprise, and they didn’t want to announce that they were officers. Once they realized Miles was not armed, he said, they couldn’t admit to what they’d done because it went against their training.
Attorneys for the three officers asked the jury to find in favor of the officers: They said Jordan invented his version of the night so that he wouldn’t get into trouble with his mother and grandmother.
Sansone asked the jury to remember Miles’ testimony and remember his eyes, he said Miles is not lying and that the officers, mistaking him for a drug dealer, went about issuing “frontier justice.” He told the jury their job is hard because he is asking them to go against three law enforcement officers. But, he asked them to suspend disbelief that they could do wrong and believe the word of an 18-year-old boy.