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Thursday, July 26, 2012

In Miles case, it's the police officers' turn

Posted By on Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 5:38 PM

Homewood teen Jordan Miles not only ran from police after they identified themselves, police officer Michael Saldutte testified this afternoon, but he put up a lengthy fight as three city officers tried to subdue him.

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.

"I began running parallel to him yelling 'Pittsburgh police, stop! Pittsburgh police! Stop!'" the officer said.

Miles eventually tried to turn left onto the sidewalk, Saldutte testified, but fell. Saldutte caught up with him and grabbed the back of his jacket and his chest. "As soon as I took hold of him, he swung his right elbow back and struck me on the right side of my head."

A scuffle ensued, Saldutte testified, and Sisak announced that they were police and that Miles was under arrest. Saldutte said he heard the "click click click" of a Taser, but the device didn't work. During the scuffle, Saldutte said Miles kicked Sisak in the shin, and repeatedly tried to get up despite being pinned down.

"He's either fighting [with the officer] or trying to run away, but he was resisting," Saldutte said. Ultimately, he added, a leg sweep from Ewing took Miles down. Even then, the officer said, they struggled to handcuff him and during that entanglement, he felt something hard in Miles front pocket graze his forearm.

"I put two and two together and thinking the reason he's fighting is he's got a gun," Saldutte said.

The officers eventually cuffed the teen and rolled Miles onto his side to search him. In Miles' front pocket, Saldutte testified, he found a Mountain Dew bottle, which he threw to the side while looking for a weapon.

"I thought he had a gun on him," Saldutte said. "He probably did have a gun on him." That statement was met with adamant objections from Mile's attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, whose objections were sustained by federal Judge Gary Lancaster.

As the officers searched the area, Saldutte claimed, homeowner Monica Wooding yelled at the officers from an upstairs window. Saldutte testified he asked her if she knew the suspect and she said she didn't, and that she hadn't given anyone permission to be on her property.

But Wooding's name didn't make it into Saldutte's police report, Lewis noted. Saldutte said he took her name down, but couldn't find it when he returned to the station. So he tried to look up her name on Allegheny County's property tax web site, and wrote down the wrong name.

Afternoon testimony was at times tense, as Lewis tried poking holes in Saldutte's police report and his motives for the officer's course of action. Lewis also asked Saldutte if Sisak told him he was afraid Miles was going to die. Saldutte said Sisak did say that, but that Lewis had taken the statement out of context.

"Officer Sisak was stating that the way Jordan was breathing heavily ... he thought because he wasn't calming down, that he was going to die, not because of his injuries," Saldutte said.

Earlier today, the defense opened its case by calling city police officer David C. Wright, who teaches use of force, defensive tactics and physical fitness at the training academy. Wright also conducted a use-of-force assessment on the Miles case.

Wright outlined the bureau's "continuum of control" which lays out five basic levels of reasonable force -- from verbal commands to deadly force -- that an officer may use, based on the level of resistance put up by the subject.

"The difficult part of police work is you have to make quick decisions," Wright testified. "If you don't make a quick decision, your life could be taken."

Wright also testified that officers are trained to use the "plus-one theory": Officers generally use force one level higher than the resistance they're facing.

"As a police officer, you're using force to defend yourself if the goal of the actor is to hurt you," he said. "As police officers, we're not required by law to wait to be hit."

But, he acknowledged, an officer has to be justified in use of deadly force. And he testified, under questioning by Lewis, that "we do not teach officers to use punitive force," and that "if resistance stops, there should be no further force from officers."

Lewis prodded Wright' about his personal relationship with the officers involved. Lewis noted that Wright and Saldutte both participate in martial arts and have competed in tournaments together. Wright testified he owns a gym where Saldutte instructs a contact-combat class called "krav maga," and that he and Saldutte participated in Brazilian ju-jitsu martial arts.

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