A federal court jury found three white Pittsburgh police officers did not maliciously prosecute a young black man who was arrested for prowling and fighting with police, but was unable to come to a verdict on whether officers used excessive force and falsely arrested him.
The verdict Wednesday came after five days of deliberations. It means the jury of five men and three women, all white except for the black male foreman, could not award damages to Jordan Miles who maintains he was stopped without cause – likely because he was a young black man walking in his high-crime neighborhood – then wrongly arrested and beaten before and after he was handcuffed on a frigid, snowy night.
“It’s a good win for us,” said James Wymard, the attorney for Officer David Sisak who wasn’t in the courtroom because he’s vacationing with his family.
Miles, now 20, his mother and sister declined comment, but his attorneys promised to continue the legal battle.
“There will be a new trial on the most important issue: Was there excessive force?” said Tim O’Brien, one of Miles’ attorneys.
The officers had always maintained they did nothing wrong and that they stopped Miles only because he appeared to be lurking near a neighbor’s home and had a bulge in his coat pocket which they took for a gun before finding only a soda bottle about 11 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010. Miles has denied having even the bottle. He said he was merely walking about a block to his grandmother’s house, where he routinely spent the night, when the plainclothes officers rolled up to him asking for money, drugs and a gun – a tactic the police denied using, but which Miles’ attorneys said is used to put suspected drug dealers on the defensive.
Miles, then an 18-year-old senior at Pittsburgh’s performing arts high school with no criminal record, was charged with assaulting police, loitering and prowling at night, resisting arrest and escape. Miles said he ran away and struggled with police only, but only because they didn’t identify themselves as police and he feared being robbed.
Saldutte’s veteran police union lawyer, Bryan Campbell, said the verdict shows the jury believed the officers. “The jury had to decide which story they wanted to believe,” Campbell said.
Miles’ malicious prosecution claim alleged the officers filed the criminal charges without justification, possibly out of spite or to justify the force used to arrest Miles. The wrongful arrest claim, though similar, must be retried and dealt specifically with whether the officers had reasonable suspicion, on the spot, to arrest Miles.
Also to be retried is Miles’ claim that police used excessive force – choking him and hitting him in the head with a hard object after he was handcuffed, among other alleged abuse – that left him with post-traumatic stress disorder and short-term memory problems that will keep him from completing a college education and realizing his full personal and earning potential.
A district justice dismissed the criminal charges against Miles two months later when the woman who lived in the house where police contend they saw Miles lurking testified she never told police she didn’t know who he was and was never asked, as officers claimed in a criminal complaint, whether he had permission to be there.
O’Brien said he’s hopeful a new jury will see the case differently – especially if the judge can be persuaded to allow some evidence in the retrial which was barred from this trial, including a police commander’s testimony that Saldutte and Ewing had made up claims to support similar arrests in the past.