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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cops in beating case to go back on the beat

Posted By on Thu, May 5, 2011 at 6:08 PM

City officials announced today that three police officers accused of beating a Homewood teenager last year will be re-instated, now that the US Department of Justice has declined to prosecute them.

Officers Michael Saldutte, Richard Ewing and David Sisak will return to active duty after being on administrative leave since the alleged Jan. 12, 2010, beating of Homewood teen Jordan Miles.

Police chief Nathan Harper and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced the reinstatement at a press conference today, saying the officers would not return to Zone 5, which includes Homewood. The officials would not provide any other details, except to say the officers would have to have physicals and service training, and that their assignments would be made by Harper and the command staff.

Harper said the three officers are not facing any disciplinary action, and that a city investigation has been completed. A year ago, city officials said the investigation had been in hiatus, pending the Justice Department review. The officers have been on paid leave ever since.

"There is no question Mr. Jordan Miles sustained physical injuries during this incident," Harper said at today's conference. "However there is no evidence that the injuries were a result of any wrongful conduct on the part of the officers."

Saldutte, Ewing and Sisak claimed Jordan Miles, then a CAPA senior, was sneaking around a Homewood residence with what they thought was a gun -- and that he ran away after they confronted him. Miles said the officers brutally attacked him without identifying themselves as police.

Charges against Miles were dropped, and United States Attorney David Hickton announced yesterday there will be no federal criminal charges against the officers. Hickton cited a lack of evidence necessary to sustain a conviction.

"I understand that Mr. Miles, his family and members of the community may be greatly disappointed by the news that we cannot prosecute any officer in connection with this incident, while others may support the decision not to prosecute," Hickton said in a statement. "Our decision not to pursue federal charges is based upon a review of all the facts that developed by that extensive investigation."

Miles still has a federal lawsuit pending against the officers.

"I don't believe there is anyone in Pittsburgh ... who doesn't wish the events of Jan 12, 2010, did not occur," Ravenstahl said today. But "Now is a time to look into the future. It's a time for us as a city to heal, to heal the relationships between our police officers, the men and women who risk their lives every day to keep our citizens and neighborhoods safe and the people they are sworn to protect. To heal our police force so they can go to work to protect us in the most effective way. We also must continue working to avoid any situations like this incident in the future."

Harper called the incident a "teachable moment" for police and people who have an "unscheduled encounter" with police.

"We would hope that young people realize when a police officer approaches them and they've done nothing wrong to see what the police officer wants instead of running away from them. We aren't the enemy out there," Harper said. "We're out there trying to protect and serve and also for the officers to realize because a person runs it may be out of fear."

The District Attorney's office is still investigating the matter. Mike Manko, spokesman for the District Attorney's office, said in an e-mail that the office hopes to get in touch with the U.S. Attorney's office to discuss its investigation "and we are also waiting on some reports from the city's OMI to get some information from them before we say anything else."

In the meantime, however, the DA's interest means that the Citizens Police Review Board, which investigates claims of misconduct, will remain on the sidelines. The board is barred from acting on a complaint if criminal charges may be filed against an officer. 

"We have to wait until all criminal investigations are disposed of, which means until the DA closes his case we have to step back," says CPRB executive director Beth Pittinger. "We can't go forward with ours until we know he’s doing."

The continued delay is regrettable, says Pittinger. M"Nobody is getting anything to clear the air," she says. "I think that increases community tensions."

A protest opposing the reinstatement is scheduled for tomorrow at noon, at the City-County Building.

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