Pittsburgh police commander Rashall Brackney took the stand today in the Jordan Miles civil trial against the three police officers he says excessively assaulted and unfairly arrested him in January 2010. However, Brackney's testimony was strictly on police procedures and policies and not on her knowledge of the officers' past conduct, which was ruled inadmissible prior to trial.
Miles was an 18-year-old CAPA High School student on Jan. 12, 2010 when he had an altercation with the three officers - David Sisak, Michael Saldutte and Richard Ewing — in his Homewood neighborhood. He says he was simply walking to his grandmother's home in Homewood when the officers approached him without identifying themselves. Thinking he was going to be robbed, Miles ran; he claims the police chased him down, beat him severely while pulling chunks of hair from his head. The three officers claim they saw Miles skulking around a neighbor’s house at 11 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010. They stopped him and identified themselves, they say. And they say Miles had a bulge in his jacket, acted like he had a gun and ran. They say he later assaulted Sisak and Saldutte and was the aggressor in the altercation, despite being outweighed by the officers’ combined weight of more than 600 pounds. Charges against him, however, were later dropped.
This is the second go round for Miles in civil court. In August 2012, a jury found in favor of the officers on claims that they maliciously prosecuted Miles. However, the panel deadlocked on claims of false arrest and excessive force.
Brackney's testimony today was strictly about general department policies based on 30 years of law enforcement experience and not specifically about the Miles' incident. Brackney reviews "contact resistance forms" which are used to determine whether a police officer has used excessive force in an incident.
The three officers in the case have testified to punching Miles in the head and knee striking Miles in the head.
"We do not train officers to punch in the head," Brackney said. "A knee strike is not a compliance technique. Knee strikes to a subject's head would be considered deadly force."
Brackney also testified about crime statistics throughout the city and in Homewood specifically, where the incident took place.
"Homewood is a high crime area in terms of violence against the community," Brackney said.
The officers have used Homewood's high crime rates to explain the police officers' state of mind in their confrontation with Miles. However Brackney said Homewood does not have a high rate of crime against police officers when compared with other city neighborhoods including the Hill District, South Side, North Shore, and Oakland.
Prior to trial, Miles' attorneys attempted to persuade U.S. District Judge David Cercone to allow Brackney to testify about the officers' past conduct. According to portions of Brackney's earlier deposition, Brackney testified that "I recommended repeatedly that they were to be closely monitored, that they had a history of lying..."
Saldutte also testified today and his account of events closely aligns with previous testimony given by Sisak and Ewing.
Saldutte was the officer who allegedly saw Miles standing on the side of a house. He alerted the other two officers and they turned their car around to investigate. He said he identified himself as a police officer and got out of the car to question Miles before Miles ran away.
"I feel what we did was appropriate given the actions of Mr. Miles," Saldutte said.
Miles is expected to testify tomorrow.