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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Police chief testifies in Miles trial

Posted By on Tue, Jul 24, 2012 at 1:42 PM

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.

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