Plaintiff describes police beating at civil trial

July 19, 2012 - 5:36 PM

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A young black man told jurors Thursday he was beaten by three white plainclothes police officers, then choked and told to "shut up" when he began praying during what he contends was a wrongful arrest on a snowy night more than two years ago.

The officers occasionally shook their heads while listening to testimony from 20-year-old Jordan Miles during their federal civil rights trial stemming from his Jan. 12, 2010, arrest. A district judge dismissed all criminal charges, including prowling and assault, against Miles two months later after expressing doubt about the officers' version of events.

But on Thursday, the officers' attorneys were ridiculing Miles' version, in particular his claim that he didn't realize the plainclothes officers were police until uniformed officers showed up minutes later.

Defense attorney James Wymard sarcastically referred to his client and two other officers as the "three white mystery men" when cross-examining Miles and, at one point said, "You knew all along, Mr. Miles, that they were police officers."

Miles contends he thought he was being robbed in his crime-ridden neighborhood when he was approached while talking on his cellphone and walking from his mother's home to his grandmother's to spend the night.

The officers — Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak — say they stopped Miles after seeing him lurking near a neighbor's home with his back to the street and a bulge in his coat pocket that they thought was a gun. The officers claim the bulge turned out to be a bottle of soda, and contend they identified themselves as police and only used force because Miles fought them and ran away.

Miles, then an 18-year-old senior at the city's performing arts magnet school, said he left his house and was walking in the street — not closely alongside a neighbor's home as the officers claim — because of the icy sidewalks. That's when he saw the unmarked car pull up abruptly.

Miles said none of the men identified themselves as police as they exited the vehicle and one said, "Where's your gun, money and drugs?"

Miles said he was so startled that he dropped his phone and yelled, "Chill! Stop!" before running back toward his mother's home "because I thought I was going to be robbed."

One of the men dove onto his back and began hitting him in the head as Miles lay on his stomach. Moments later, "It felt as if I was being hit everywhere in my body at the same time," Miles said.

Miles said he was eventually handcuffed after one of the men put a knee into his back and pulled his arms behind him but said the officers continued to hit him. At that point, Ewing shook his head while listening to the testimony.

It was then, Miles said, he began praying, only to be told to shut up. When he continued praying under his breath, Miles said he was choked and again told to shut up.

Miles testified he had nothing in his coat pocket — not even the soda bottle, which police have said was thrown away because they didn't consider it important.

Miles' attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, contends the soda bottle claim was a thinly veiled pretext to justify rousting a man the police apparently assumed was a drug dealer or criminal because he was young and black.

The defense strongly suggested Miles' version of events was coached and expressed incredulity about his claim that he didn't realize his alleged attackers were police even after he was handcuffed.

"Do you know anybody else with handcuffs?" Wymard asked.

Still, Miles insisted that was the case, and Lewis introduced other statements Miles gave to the police and the FBI — which investigated the officers but never filed criminal charges against them — that show he's consistently made that claim.

On Thursday, Miles testified he felt "joy" when he saw the other, uniformed officers arrive.

"I was relieved, I felt I was going to be saved," Miles testified. "I thought they had come to my rescue."

The trial will be in recess until Monday.