Officers in the Jordan Miles civil suit suffered a setback in federal court today, when a witness called by the defense repeatedly declined to shore up its case.
During Miles' testimony last week, defense attorney Jim Wymard asked him if he ever told Ryan Allen, a former high school friend, that he'd been carrying Mountain Dew back in January 2010, when he encountered Pittsburgh police officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak. Police have contended that they mistook the bottle for a gun; during the resulting encounter, Miles claims to have been beaten by officers -- who he says didn't identify themselves.
On the stand last week, Miles testified that he didn't have a bottle, and that he never told Allen any such thing. This morning, Allen pretty much agreed.
Allen was called to testify by the officers regarding a statement he made to the FBI in February 2011; according to a report made during that investigation, Allen said that Miles told him that he had a bottle. But on Monday morning, Allen repeatedly told Wymard that he didn't remember saying that to the FBI -- and that he didn't recall Miles ever saying that to him.
"I don't remember telling [Special Agent Sonia Bush] that," Allen testified. Wymard appeared frustrated by Allen's response and began asking the same questions in different ways, but Allen continued to say he didn't remember. Wymard insinuated that Allen didn't want to testify to what he heard Miles say because he didn't want to hurt Miles' case.
"I'm not here to hurt or harm," Allen said. "I'm not picking sides."
During cross-examination, Miles attorney Tim O'Brien gave Allen another chance to defend his story: "There is a suggestion here that you would lie to help Jordan."
"I'm trying to give you what I remember," Allen replied.
Allen's testimony comes as a blow to the defense. No Mountain Dew bottle was taken into evidence -- police say they tossed it away at the scene -- and Allen was an independent witness corroborating the officers' version of events. Wymard has mentioned Allen several times throughout the trial, intimating to jurors that he would back up the officers' claims.
Earlier this morning, the defense called Patricia Colman and her son A-Ron Roberts. The pair live in the house next to where Miles' incident with police took place. They both testified that the morning after the event, they found the bushes on the property broken down, and there was blood on the ground and hair in the bushes. The officers claim Miles sustained a lot of his injuries when he was tackled through hedges. Miles says that did not happen.
On cross-examination, though, Miles' attorney introduced a photo that showed there were additional strands of Miles' hair laying on the ground. The officers also claim that Miles was sneaking around a house late at night giving them suspicion that he was up to something. Miles says he was walking down the middle of the street.
Defense attorneys have applied that Miles could have been cutting between the houses to take a shortcut to his grandmother's house on the next street over. But Roberts testified that it was impossible to do that because of a fence and over-grown trees.
Testimony will continue this afternoon.
Allegheny County's paratransit service ACCESS has been spared from significant service reductions, at least for now.
ACCESS had faced a significant service reduction -- the first in its history -- as part of the Port Authority's pending 35 percent reduction in September due to a $64 million budget deficit. The cuts would have reduced the service to the minimal service allowed by federal law -- only offering rides to riders eligible under the American Disabilities Act that start and end within three-quarters of a mile of a fixed bus route.
But at a monthly board meeting this morning, Port Authority CEO Steve Bland said the agency has received funding from the Federal Job Access Reverse Commute and Federal New Freedom Program, as well as matching dollars from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The result: an estimated $6.2 million to keep ACCESS afloat. The authority says it will request to stretch that money out for the next two years.
"This is huge," Bland said following the board's monthly meeting. "We had 2,000 individuals who frankly were thinking 'What am I going to do?'"
The fare increase that went into effect for ACCESS on July 1 will remain in place. But the service will function at its current level, operating door-to-door service between any two points within Allegheny County, and up to 1.5 miles into neighboring counties for those who qualify.
ACCESS ought to be safe at least until September 2013. After that, Bland said, the future is uncertain. The authority plans to use half of the money this year and the remainder the following -- as long as it receives permission from the funding authorities. But if the authority does have to go through with cutting its regular fixed-route bus and light-rail service this fall, that would likely push additional riders to the ACCESS system, which could create other funding challenges.
"There are no guarantees [the funds] will cover a second year," says authority spokesman Jim Ritchie.
Bland praised PennDOT, federal and state officials, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and the county's legislative delegation in Harrisburg. But he noted the agency isn't out of the woods yet; it still faces a massive reduction of bus and light-rail service, as well as massive layoffs, this September.
In his report to the board, Bland said contract negotiations are continuing between the authority, state officials, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 and Fitzgerald's office. Bland said the group agreed to stay mum on talks, but did say "everyone at the table ... is working very hard to avoid the 35% service cut."
Time is of the essence. Today was the authority's last board meeting before September, though Bland said the board could reconvene at any time if a funding salutation was presented.
"The cuts can still be avoided," he said. "But we're running very short on precious time."
Today marked the beginning of the defense's case in Miles' civil-rights trial against Pittsburgh police. And Saldutte testified that on the night of Jan. 12, 2010, he and fellow officers Richard Ewing and David Sisak were working in a "99 car" doing a plainclothes detail and patrol out of Zone 5. As the officers patrolled Homewood, Saldutte said, he spotted a figure in dark clothing standing up against the side of 7940 Tioga Street around 11 p.m.
"It was highly suspicious what he was doing: standing around the house late night, it was dark, cold, no one around," Saldutte said.
Saldutte asked his fellow officers "what's that guy doing?" They turned the car around to investigate, and as they got closer to the home, Saldutte testified, the figure walked toward the sidewalk.
"He stopped, looked up at us and put his hand in his pocket."
That alarmed the officers even more. Saldutte said Miles stopped and turned his body away from the officers. Ewing announced "Pittsburgh police," Saldutte testified, as Saldutte began getting out of the car, then held his badge up and told Miles to take his hands out of his pocket.
"Anytime you're dealing with someone, you want to be able to see their hands," he told jurors, "technically that's what's going to hurt you."
Miles did remove his hands from his pocket, Saldutte said, but when Saldutte asked if that was his house, Miles said he lived down the street and again turned his body away from him. "I was able to see the bulge in his front right pocket," Saldutte said.
"As soon as I asked him, 'Why are you sneaking around someone's house?'" he said, Miles started to walk away without answering. Saldutte testified that as Miles walked, he kept his right arm straight down over his pocket. Saldutte said he commanded him to stop as the police vehicle began to follow him, but Miles began running instead.
Short answer: Not exactly.
There's been a lot of buzz about this Talking Points Memo report, which notes that when Pennsylvania's Voter ID bill is argued before Commonwealth Court tommorrow, the state will not be arguing that in-person voter fraud has been a problem, or that it will be one in the coming November election. The report is based on a "stipulation agreement" -- a legal filing in which both sides spell out things they won't be arguing over in court. And in this case, both the ACLU, which has sued to overturn the law, and state officials agree they won't be arguing over how often voter fraud happens. According to the agreement, the state "will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere." Nor will they argue "that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law."
But that doesn't necessarily mean that, as the Talking Point Memo headline asserts, "Pennsylvania Admits There's No In-Person Voter Fraud." They're simply choosing not to argue about it, which isn't the same thing.
As the stipulation agreement notes, the state's "sole rationale for the Photo ID law," is contained in a response to written questions filed by the ACLU. And in that answer, the state makes quite clear that it has plenty of suspicions that Voter ID does take place ... and that one purpose of the law is to ferret out such cases.
State officials "are aware of reports indicating that votes have been cast in the name of registered electors who are deceased, who no longer reside in Pennsylvania , or who no longer reside in the jurisdiction where the vote is cast," the state's answer asserts. And without some proof of ID, the state contends, "there is a risk that votes may be cast in the names of registered electors who are dead or who have left [the area] by a person other than the registered voters ... Requiring a photo ID is one way to ensure that every elector who presents himself to vote [is] the person that he purports to be, and to ensure that the public has confidence in the electoral process. The requirement of a photo ID is a tool to detect and deter voter fraud."
Elsewhere in its response, the state cites a smattering of reports, including one by WPXI-TV, alleging outdated voter rolls including dead people, as well as a variety of other irregularities in Philadelphia especially. And it notes that part of the reason state officials lack knowledge of voter fraud is that conducting elections is largely the job of county officials.
"[C]ounty boards of elections, the district boards of elections, and their respective staffs are in the best position to detect and respond directly to election frauds committed in their respective jurisdictions," the response argues.
I can see why skeptics are running with the stipulated agreement, and using it as a basis for criticism. Democrats have understandably seized on the fact that Gov. Tom Corbett himself didn't prosecute any voter fraud cases when he was the state Attorney General. Hell, I made a joking tweet about the stipulation agreement myself last week. What's more, even after reading a fuller explanation of the state's position, it's not as if they have a particularly strong case. Many of the voting irregularities it cites are more than a decade old, took place in other states, or both. Some of them are simply canards: Chris Briem at Null Space, for example, has previously addressed the myth of dead voters showing up at polls.
Still, it's a distortion to say the state has admitted voter fraud never takes place. There are all kinds of reasons why lawyers decide against making an argument in court -- questions of jurisdiction, whether evidence is admissable, and so on. But that doesn't mean state officials can't, or won't, make the case on the courthouse steps.
In fact, I'm now hearing that the secretary of the Commonwealth, Carol Aichele, plans to hold a press conference in about an hour. We'll see how she pleads in the court of public opinion.
It seems as though Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper has become less critical of the three police officers accused of beating former CAPA high school student Jordan Miles than he was a year ago.
In a deposition Harper gave in June 2011 he said the three officers -- Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing -- should have preserved the Mountain Dew Bottle that they the officers say they mistook for a gun the night of Jan. 12, 2010. However, under cross-examination this morning, Harper said the bottle wasn't "relevant" to the five charges: prowling, loitering, escape and two counts of aggravated assault.
Harper said the bottle would not be "evidence in a criminal trial but it would be evidence in a civil case." Harper said food and beverage items are not accepted at the city's evidence storage and said even if the bottle had been collected, "it would have been disregarded."
He sounded a somewhat different note a year ago. In court yesterday, Miles attorney Kerrington Lewis read from a deposition in which Harper was asked that if the soda bottle should have been collected as evidence. At the time, a transcript says, Harper replied, "That is correct."
At various times during his testimony, Harper indicated that if Miles' version of events is true then officers did not have a right to stop him and the use of force was unjustifed. However, if the officer's version of events are true, then the officers' actions were reasonable.
Harper was still testifying at the lunch break and should finish this afternoon. But before the break, Lewis attempted to ask a question that has been on the minds of many in the community for the past two-and-a-half years. The officers say they thought Miles was armed and that he went to great lengths to protect, hide and reach for the object in his right pocket -- behaviors they say led them to believe it was a gun.
But if it was a soda bottle after all, Lewis asked, would it make sense for Miles to try to conceal it in the first place? Attorneys for the officers objected to Lewis asking that question. Their objections led Judge Gary Lancaster to ask Harper a question that got a few laughs from the jury and the gallery.
"In your 35 years as a police officer, have you ever seen a situation [where an individual involved in a struggle] decided 'I sure could use a cold drink right now?'" Lancaster asked.
Harper indicated that he had not.
In testimony yesterday afternoon, Harper was also asked about testimony from last week regarding the use of the phrase "gun, money and drugs" by city officers. Miles claims the three officers did not identify themselves as police officers when demanding those things. And an investigator with the Office of Municipal Investigations who looked into Miles' complaint had reported that the phrase was frequently used by police.
But when Lewis asked exactly how many officers used that phrase in the course of their work, Harper answered, "to my knowledge none."
This afternoon, Tuesday jurors are likely to hear from one of Miles' most important witnesses, Monica Wooding. Wooding's house was where officers allege Miles was prowling and sneaking around on Jan. 12, 2010. During Miles' preliminary criminal hearing, Saldutte testified that Wooding was in an upper window of her home when officers shined a light on Miles' face and asked if she knew him and if he had permission to be at her home. Saldutte testified that he did not.
However, a short time later Wooding testified that knew Miles very well, and that incident with officers never happened. Miles has also said that he was never presented to anyone that night. Last week he testified that he was taken from the ground to the police transport vehicle.
A doctor who began treating Jordan Miles in October 2011 says the 20-year-old will have "lifelong difficulties" due to the beating he took at the hands of three Pittsburgh police officers.
Dr. Maria Twichell, the clinical director for UPMC's Sports Medicine Concussion program, testified in a federal civil cast this morning that Miles came to see her last year with a host of symptoms. They included headaches, dizziness, short-term memory loss, nausea, nightmares, flashbacks and depression. Miles also complained of a loss of sensation in his face, particularly under his right eye.
Miles was an 18-year-old CAPA high school honor student when he had an altercation near his mother's home in Homewood on Jan. 12, 2010. Miles says he was merely walking down the street when he was stopped by three officers -- Michael Saldutte, Richard Ewing and David Sisak -- asked for money and gus and drugs and then attacked and beaten as he attempted to flee from the men that he says he didnd't know were police. The officers claim they did ID themselves and had probable cause to stop Miles because he was lurking around the side of a house in the area.
In court today, Twichell said Miles doesn't remember everything that happened on Jan. 12, 2010, but remembers some of the blows he took, including a hard blow to the right side of his forehead. Twichell says Miles told her he had also been having trouble doing things he had been able to do in the past, like math and other school work because he had trouble focusing and remembering things.
Twichell ordered a neruological exam of Miles and eventually concluded that he was suffering from post-concussive disorder, and that he had suffered brain damage to the right side of his brain. She diagnosed him with both cognitive disorder and anxiety disorder.
Miles' attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, asked Twichell about Miles' future prospects.
"Jordan will have lifelong difficulty from his injuries," answered Twichell, who added that recovery from a trauma typically wanes after two years. "I think where Jordan is now is what we can expect going forward."
On cross-examination, defense attorney Bryan Campbell asked Twichell if a subject, particularly one involved in litigation, could magnify his symptoms, or even outright make them up. Twichell testified that the tests performed on Miles had safeguards designed to see if a patient was "magnifying symptoms or false reporting."
"Jordan passed all validity measures," Twichell testified.
Campbell also introduced Miles' application for a driving permit, dated June 6, 2010. That report contained a "health assessment report" in which Miles checked a box indicating that he was not suffering from dizziness. Twichell testified that symptoms can often present themselves as time goes on.
Campbell also asked Twichell about the fact that the emergency room report listed Miles as "awake and alert" the night of the incident.
"Being awake and alert doesn't mean a person didn't have a concussion," Twichell testifed. "The other option would be comatose."
Three members of the Citizen's Police Review Board have submitted their resignations, leaving the spots open for City Council to appoint new members.
The resignations of board chair Deborah Walker and members Tom Kolano and Debora Whitfield will be effective July 31, according to CPRB Executive Director Beth Pittinger.
Walker, a long-time board member who holds a seat reserved for law-enforcement professionals, is leaving to complete her doctorate degree. "Between the class schedule and school work, there was a scheduling conflict," Pittinger says. "She's gone above and beyond in her service to the board."
Kolano and Whitfield are both moving out of the city, making them ineligible to serve.
Interested applicants for Kolano and Whitfield's seat need only be a city resident to apply. To apply for Walker's seat, applicants must be a city resident and have experience law-enforcement professional, but cannot be an active-duty officer at the time of their board service.
Those interested in serving should contact their city councilor. City council will have to nominate three separate names for each seat and ultimately whittle that down to one per seat. The mayor will then have 30 days to act on the resolution. If he fails to act, city council can appoint the members.
For those fearful that the state's controversial Voter ID bill is a mere Republican power-grab, there's good news and bad news this week.
You may be familiar with the outrage surrounding the first contract let out by Gov. Tom Corbett's Administration: As Philadelphia City Paper Daniel Denvir reported earlier this month, a quarter-million-dollar voter-notification contract was won by the Bravo Group, a firm with strong ties to the GOP and to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. That prompted lots of whining from the usual suspects, and this morning, Talking Points Memo disclosed that Bravo Group was apparently doubling down, having subcontracted minority-outreach work to a firm that has done consulting with the GOP committee.
But maybe the fix isn't in. A new, larger voter ID contract has been let to a Pittsburgh firm ... one which doesn't have strong GOP ties.
Red House Communications has won a $1.8 million job to create broadcast and print ads, as well as other outreach materials in the voter ID campaign. And if anything, Red House's politics appear to be tinted blue.
Gloria Blint, the firm's president and CEO, has a modest track record of supporting Democrats. A check of FEC records shows that she gave $250 to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. That same election year, she also contribute $1,500 to former Erie Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper, who went on to win that race, and another $1,500 to Stephen O'Donnell, who lost his challenge to Republican incumbent Tim Murphy. Blint previously contributed $2,000 to Georgia Berner, a New Castle businesswoman who mounted a progressive challenge to Jason Altmire.
On the state level, Blint made a 2009 contribution of $1,000 to then-Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato -- who was of course gearing up to take on Corbett himself in the following year's gubernatorial race.
My initial search hasn't turned up any other political activity by Red House execs, unless you count its PR director having worked a two-decade-old stint for a Republican Congressman.
Meanwhile, the Department of the Commonwealth has been doing some outreach of its own, sending out letters to voters who may lack ID. We had one of those letters forwarded to us, which you can see for yourself here (identifying information has been redacted).
It's all fairly straightforward, spelling out what forms of ID will be acceptable at the polls, and what documents you may be required to provide in order to get a photo ID should you need one. But one assertion jumps out:
"[T]he Department of State is working with PennDOT to develop an alternative form of photo identification for voting purposes only that would be available to those who are unable for some reason to obtain a PennDOT photo ID."
That's a reference to a little-noted alternative the state is busily working on, due out sometime in the next few weeks. The goal is to provide though so far state officials could "not elaborate on specifics of the new cards, or describe what the lesser requirements might be for obtaining one."
Sounds great. Except ... wouldn't it have been nice if state officials had figured all this out BEFORE they began dropping letters into the mail? Wouldn't it have been nice if the letter had been able to spell out all the options a voter had? So people could take advantage of them?
Some critics -- including the famously evenhanded G. Terry Madonna -- have argued that any Voter ID law should be at the very least delayed ... precisely to deal with such logistical problems. On the other hand, maybe Republicans have a new argument against suspicions that Voter ID is a sophisticated back-door power grab: "We're just not that organized!"
This morning, Jordan Miles got a chance to lay out his version of events on the night of Jan. 12, 2010. This afternoon, jurors watched an attorney for three city police officers try to tear that version down.
Miles says he was beaten Jan. 12, 2010 by three undercover city officers -- David Sisak, Michael Saldutte and Richard Ewing -- near his mother’s home in Homewood. He testified Thursday morning that the men approached him as he walked down Tioga Street and demanded “gun, drugs, money.” Miles said he thought he was being robbed and took off. The officers claim they thought Miles had a gun because of a bulge in his coat pocket that turned out to be a bottle of Mountain Dew. No bottle was ever taken into evidence.
He said the men never identified as police officers. But defense attorney James Wymard began the afternoon asserting that the officers did identify themselves and that they were only trying to handcuff Miles.
"It was obvious to you from the beginning that they were police officers, wasn’t it?" Wymer asked Miles.
But Miles stood by his original claim: "It was not obvious to me they were police officers,” he replied. He said they never identified themselves, they never flashed lights or sirens and the car was unmarked.
"Also, they continued to beat me after I was handcuffed," Miles added. "I didn't think that was something cops would do. I was arrested even though I didn’t do anything and I didn’t think cops would behave like that either."
Wymard then brought up statements Miles made to the FBI during a federal investigation into the incident, seeking to find discrepancies in his previous accounts.
However, Miles' attorney J. Kerrington Lewis later had Miles read the entire FBI report -- which, as Judge Gary Lancaster made a point of telling jurors, was the FBI agent's version of their interview with Miles and not Miles' words themselves. In that FBI statement and statements to agencies like the city’s Office of Municipal investigations, Miles tells largely the same story: that he was walking down the street, that the officers did not identify themselves but demanded "gun, drugs, money" and that they beat him -- before and after he was handcuffed.
Lewis also had Miles read from the OMI report, in which the OMI investigator wrote that that phrase "gun, drugs, money" is typically used by city undercover officers when engaging suspects.
But jurors have yet to hear from Stefan Williams and Ryan Allen, who may dent Miles' credibility. Under questioning by Wymard, Miles acknowledged that Williams was his best friend, and the two communicate almost daily. According to Wymard, Williams contends that Miles told him he had been in between two houses, as the officers claim. Miles testified he never told Williams any such thing.
Allen, meanwhile, is a former friend of Miles. Miles said the two had a falling-out, stemming partly from the fact that Allen is now dating Miles' ex-girlfriend, Jemiah Anderson. Miles said he and Allen are no longer friends, but "are respectful of one another."
Wymard asked: “Do you recall talking with Ryan Allen and telling him that the police mistook a bottle of Mountain Dew for a gun?"
Replied Miles: "I never told him that."
Another tidbit from Thursday’s testimony was the introduction of Myspace and Facebook pictures of Miles -- sometimes shirtless -- flexing his muscles. Miles' lawyers say the 150-pound Miles was no match for the three officers, all roughly 6-feet tall and 200 pounds or more. But on the opening day of the trial. Wymard called Miles "150 pounds of dynamite."
The Myspace photos showed a shirtless, flexing Miles under the username "Bulky J" taken some time when Miles was between 14 and 16 years old. A final photo, taken in October 2011, was of Miles after a workout, wearing a shirt but slightly flexing his muscles. Miles' physique did show definition in all three photos.
"You wanted to show yourself to be bulky?" Wymard asked
"Yes I did," replied Miles.
On the witness stand this morning, former CAPA High School Student Jordan Miles said he was relieved on Jan. 12, 2010 when police vehicles arrived on the scene in Homewood after his altercation with three white men near his mother's home.
"I thought I was going to be saved," Miles told jurors Thursday afternoon during his civil trial against three undercover City of Pittsburgh Police officers. He testified that at the time, he thought "one of the neighbors called the cops" after seeing the altercation. As it turned out, of course, the three white men were police officers themselves.
Miles told a very different story Thursday compared to the one those Pittsburgh Police -- Michael Saldutte, Richard Ewing and David Sisak -- are expected to tell when they take the stand in their own defense sometime next week.
Miles spoke softly but confidently as he relayed his version of events. Miles testified he left his mother's house and headed to his grandmother's home where he slept, while talking on the phone to his friend Jamiah Anderson. Miles said he noticed a vehicle just down the street and was a bit concerned by it.
As he walked down Tioga Street, he testified, the vehicle came toward him and stopped nearby, parking at an angle. Miles was walking in the street because the sidewalks were covered in snow and ice; he said he moved toward the sidewalk because "I thought I was going to be hit" by the car.
The men exited the car, and Miles testified that they demanded his "gun, money, drugs."
"I thought I was going to be robbed," testified Miles, who said he was "terrified."
Miles said he took off running to his mother's house, but slipped on the ice, falling on his knees and his hands. Miles said he next remembers one of the men sitting on his back; he recalled being punched in the head as officers were tugging at his jacket. Miles meanwhile said he was trying to pull his jacket together as a means of protection.
"It felt as if I was being hit everywhere on my body at the same time," Miles said. Eventually Miles was cuffed -- and even after that, he testified, he was still hit and beaten by the officers.
He said he began to pray, but one of the officers "choked" him, told him to shut up and pushed his face in the snow. Miles said he had a difficulty breathing and again began to pray silently and attempted to lift his head. At that point, "another man choked me and said, 'Didn't he tell you to shut up?'" After that, Miles said, "I gave up trying to raise my head out of the snow."
Miles suffered swelling on his face and had a large patch of his dreadlocks missing. But on the stand he said he didn't realize the hair was missing until an inmate at the Allegheny County Jail mentioned it.
The court took a lunch break, and the afternoon is being taken up by Miles' cross examination by Ewing's attorney, Jim Wymard.
Wymard questioned Miles for about five minutes before lunch; he spent most of that time arguing over apparent differences in phrasing. For example, he asked Miles about the day of the incident, "So you didn't do your homework that day?' To which Miles replied, "I don't think I had any homework that day." Wymard thundered back, "I asked you if you did your homework that day!"
If the questioning stays at that tone all afternoon, Miles is in for a long day.