This morning attorneys delivered their opening statements in the civil lawsuit filed by former CAPA Highschool student Jordan Miles against three Pittsburgh police officers he says unfairly arrested and excessively assaulted him in January 2010.
"What this case is about, we believe, is abuse of power," said Miles' attorney Robert Giroux, who was first to deliver his remarks.
This is the second trial resulting from the January 2010 incident, in which the officers say they saw Miles acting suspiciously and sought to question him before he fled, compelling them to forcefully detain him. Miles contends that the police never identified themselves and that he was frightened of them -- and that police used excessive force in arresting him. The first trial ended in 2012 with the jury finding the three officers not guilty of malicious prosecution, but called for a retrial of the counts of excessive force and false arrest.
Giroux told the jury of four white men and four white women that the case isn't about whether the three officers -- Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing -- are "bad officers" or "bad people." Instead, Giroux repeatedly urged the jury to focus on whether the use of force was appropriate. "Punching people in the head is not a compliance technique," he said.
Conversely, attorney James Wymard, who represents Sisak, told the jury that the defense will disprove Miles' account of events. Wymard said not one witness would corroborate Miles' story.
"He knew who they were," said Wymard. "All he had to do was stop like any reasonable person would do. All he had to do was stop and we wouldn't be here today."
The first witness was Miles' grandmother, Patricia Porter. Porter did not see the altercation itself, but described the scene when she and Miles' mother saw his injuries after picking him up from Allegheny County Jail the day after. She testified that upon seeing Jordan Miles' injuries -- some of his hair had been pulled out, for example -- Miles' mother cried out, "My son, my son: Look what they did to my son." The physical injuries healed, Porter said, but "Jordan became very sullen, very depressed" following the incident. "He just was not the same person."
While the trial may well turn on whose version of events the jury believes, Paul McCauley, a professor of criminology at Indiana University, testified that under either account of the arrest, the officers used excessive force.
"The amount of force used was unnecessary," said McCauley, who was the second witness called by Miles' attorneys. Police could, and should, have used flashlights or extendable batons against pressure points on Miles' body, he testified, instead of punching Miles in the head. "If you know you can use pain and get compliance," McCauley asked, "why would you use deadly force?"
McCauley's testimony will continue tomorrow.