Opening arguments were heard and testimony got underway in the civil retrial of three police officers accused of using excessive force and false arrest in a 2010 incident involving a Homewood teen.
Jordan Miles was 18 when he was stopped by the three officers on his way from his mother’s house to his grandmother’s around 11 p.m. Jan. 12. What happened next? There are two stories: Miles’s and the officers'.
Miles has said he only saw headlights coming at him and large men getting out of the vehicle. Miles claims the men, who were in plain clothes and an unmarked car, did not identify themselves as police, but got out of the car and told him to hand over the guns, drugs and money.
“If you are attacked at night by three men who do not identify themselves, who do not have their badges out, as we’ll establish, and they come after you asking for your guns, your drugs and your money, you have the right to run,” said an attorney for Miles, Joel Sansone. “You have the right to fight back, although he didn’t and you have the right to resist if you don’t know what’s happening to you.”
Another attorney for Miles, Robert Giroux, said in opening arguments this is a case of an abuse of power and violation of public trust on the parts of the officers. Giroux said they saw Miles, a black man, wearing black with dreadlocks and thought the worst of him. He said Miles was scared and didn’t know what to expect in a neighborhood that is known to be dangerous, but a neighborhood that he also calls home.
That danger is a point that attorneys for the officers emphasized in their opening statements. Attorney for Officer David Sisak, Jim Wymard, said it’s a neighborhood in which murders, robberies and rapes occur daily and that the officers had probable cause to stop Miles because it was late at night in an area they said had experienced numerous robberies.
In the first trial, the jury found in favor of officers Sisak, Richard Ewing and Michael Saldutte on the malicious prosecution allegation. They could not reach a consensus on the false arrest and excessive force, hence the retrial.
Pictures of Miles’s bloodied and swollen face, chunks of hair missing from his head, have been circulated, but the officers' attorneys said he sustained the bulk of the injuries from falls on the ice, rocks and through bushes. Attorneys for Miles said it was the officers who are responsible for the worst of the injuries, having struck Miles numerous times, even after he was handcuffed.
Attorneys for the men said it is preposterous to believe Miles didn’t know the men were police. They said the men identified themselves repeatedly, and Wymard said with "three white guys in Homewood trying to put handcuffs on somebody. Who else could it be but police officers?" They contend he simply didn’t want to go to jail.
Wymard said the men used appropriate force because Miles was acting suspiciously and, the officers said they saw a bulge in his coat they believed to be a gun. They later said it was a bottle of Mountain Dew, but they threw it away. Wymard said had Miles complied with police, rather than first acting suspicious, then trying to flee, there would have been a different outcome. Wymard said of Miles, “he created his own problem.”
An attorney for Miles, Robert Giroux, said the officers’ stories are so polished and filled with “buzz words” that they point to a cover up of what actually happened the night of January 2010. He said their story is a “version of events they had to create to cover their tracks.”
Wymard told the jury it comes down to credibility and asked “who are you going to believe?”
Sisak and Saldutte are still with the Pittsburgh Police Department. Ewing is with McCandless Police Department.
The trial is expected to last at least two weeks, with court in session Monday through Thursday.