2012-06-28 / Local & State

Motions Seek To Shape Facts In Pittsburgh Police Beating

By Joe Mandak

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Three white Pittsburgh police officers and the black performing arts high school student they’re accused of beating during an arrest more than two years ago all want a federal jury to hear their view of what happened.

But the eventual verdict case may well turn on some facts jurors never get to hear.

That’s because both sides are trying to keep some testimony and records out of evidence, by claiming it could unfairly prejudice the jury in next month’s trial.

Jordan Miles, now 20, is a violist who was enrolled at the city’s Creative and Performing Arts high school when he encountered the officers while walking near home the night of Jan. 12, 2010. The officers contend Miles was acting suspiciously and thought a gun was causing his coat pocket to bulge, though they later claimed to discover it was a bottle of Mountain Dew.

Miles said he was punched and kicked and some of his dreadlocks were pulled from his scalp. Moreover, he contends the officers working a special antidrug detail in a high-crime area approached him simply because he was a young black man and concocted claims he was acted suspiciously after things went awry.

Miles also denies having the soda bottle, much less a gun.

The officers were suspended with pay for more than 15 months before they were reinstated last year after Chief Nathan Harper said an internal investigation failed to “prove or disprove” allegations that they wrongly beat Miles.

Among other things, the officers” attorneys want the judge to keep the jury from hearing that a district judge dismissed all criminal charges against Miles. They also want to keep the jury from hearing about any prior discipline the officers might have received.

Miles’ attorneys, meanwhile, are trying to keep facts out of evidence including past school discipline and a statement from Miles’ own friend, who said Miles told him he did have a soda bottle that night before the friend later recanted.

The police contend Miles was first seen near a home whose owner later told them she didn’t know Miles and hadn’t given him permission to be on or near her property.

But a district judge threw out the charges against Miles after the homeowner, Monica Wooding, testified at a preliminary hearing that Miles is friends with her son, and said the police never asked her about whether he might have been trespassing.

If that weren’t bad enough for officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak, a police commander and the chief both gave sworn depositions critical of them, too.

A police procedures expert who will testify for Miles summarized Cmdr. Rashall Brackney’s deposition this way: Ewing has been found to be untruthful in his police reports and “received counseling, training and discipline for report writing” and all three officers “had a history of lying and taking action when not rising to (a) level of reasonable suspicion.”

The city has already paid $75,000 to settle Miles’ claims against it.

The police union attorney representing the officers, Bryan Campbell, denied they had any disciplinary problems especially for untruthfulness.

“Police officers, they don’t get counseled for being untruthful – they get fired,” Campbell said. “That allegation is untrue.”

Miles’ attorneys, meanwhile, say they don’t want the jury to know Miles was suspended twice in middle school for fighting. His attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, said Miles was never disciplined at the performing arts high school.

Lewis also wants to keep the jury from hearing that police later found a magazine of bullets near the spot police approached Miles.

Lewis argues that’s irrelevant because police never charged Miles with having a gun, and both sides agree police searching the snow-covered area that night found nothing.

Because county prosecutors also passed on filing criminal charges against the officers, the civil rights trial set to begin July 16 will be the first – and last – legal word on what happened that night.

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