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.

Monday, July 23, 2012

In Miles case, doctor testifies about lingering head trauma

Posted By on Mon, Jul 23, 2012 at 1:12 PM

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."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Police review-board slots open

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 3:09 PM

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.

Good News, Bad News on Voter ID front

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 1:49 PM

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!"

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In afternoon testimony, Miles squares off with defense attorney

Posted By on Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 6:26 PM

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.

Jordan Miles takes the stand

Posted By on Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 2:17 PM

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.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jordan Miles' mother testifies in police beating case

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 6:05 PM

Terez Miles, mother of Jordan Miles, testified Wednesday afternoon that she saw her son minutes before his Jan. 12, 2010 altercation with three white City of Pittsburgh Police officers -- and that he didn't have a bottle of Mountain Dew, or anything else, in his pocket when he went out the door.

Jordan Miles was heading to his grandmother's house a couple of blocks away at about 11 p.m. when his mother noticed he was wearing a new coat that she hadn't seen. The coat was given to him by his grandmother for his 18th birthday the day before. She testified she hadn't seen it before, as Miles usually slept in his grandmother's large home instead of sharing a room with his older brothers.

"It was a nice coat with a lot of zippers and snaps," she testified. "So I looked at it pretty well."

She told jurors she saw no soda bottle in her son's pocket and no bulge of any sort. And since his grandmother lived a short distance away, she said there would have been no place to get a soda on the walk.

Robert Leicht, attorney for Officer Richard Ewing, questioned why Miles would be looking so closely at the jacket.

"Have you ever worked as a seamstress?" Leicht asked, which brought objections from Miles lawyers. U.S. District court Judge Gary Lancaster told Leicht, "You don't have to be a seamstress to look at a jacket."

Leicht did, however, get Terez Miles to admit that if her son left a soda bottle on the front porch of her home and picked it up when he left then she wouldn't have noticed.

The other witness today a friend of Miles, Jamiah Anderson. Anderson testified that she and Miles have been friends since 2008 and began dating shortly after his run-in with police. Anderson testified that she and Miles were on the phone as he walked to his grandmother's when the encounter with Ewing and the other two officers -- Michael Saldutte and David Sisak -- began. But she said she heard little beyond the phone dropping, and Miles telling someone to "stop, chill."

Anderson's testimony brought a contentious cross-examination from Sisak's attorney, Jim Wymard, who noted inconsistencies between her testimony and the FBI's record of a statement she made in 2010. For example, the FBI report indicated that Anderson told officers that she was talking to Miles when the incident happened -- which the statement identified as being at 7 p.m. She testified that the FBI wrote down the wrong time. Phone records support the claim that she spoke with Miles at 11.

Looking ahead

At least one bit of testimony suggests that another shoe is waiting to drop. In the plaintiff's opening arguments -- and in testimony from Miles' grandmother, Patricia Porter -- Miles was characterized as having a strong character and a circle of reputable friends. Wymard asked Porter about whether she knew two of those friends, Ryan Allen and Stefan Williams. Porter testified that she knew them, but not well.

"Do you know where they currently live?" Wymard asked. Porter said she did not, and Wymard moved on to other questions. But Allen's name came up again during Anderson's testimony, when she admitted that she was now dating Allen.

Testimony will begin at 9:30 Thursday before taking the day off Friday. Look for mid-morning Twitter updates by following @charliedee71 and an update to this blog after lunch.

With first witness in Miles case, battle lines becoming clear

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 1:43 PM

The first morning of testimony in the Jordan Miles civil lawsuit featured just one witness -- Miles' grandmother, Patricia Porter. But through questioning of that one witness, attorneys for Miles -- and those of Pittsburgh Police Officer Richard Ewing, David Sisak and Michael Saldutte -- appeared to lay the groundwork for issues that will be likely be raised throughout the trial.

Miles was an 18-year-old CAPA High School student on Jan. 12, 2010 when he had an altercation with the three officers. 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 and beat him.

The officers, however, say Miles was sneaking around a home at Tioga Street, giving them reason to suspect criminal activity. And as Ewing's attorney, Robert Leicht, told jurors during his opening argument this morning, "Miles struck the first blow ... He instigated the action." p>

Here are some of the issues raised this morning that will likely be key parts of the case:

The Mountain Dew bottle

The three officers have long said that they reacted as they did in part because Miles had a bulge in the front pocket of his coat, and they thought that bulge could have been a gun. During opening arguments, Saldutte attorney Jim Wymard said one of the officers felt a hard object in his pocket and yelled "gun" during the struggle. They claimed the bulge later proved to be a Mountain Dew Bottle; however, the bottle was never recovered, and Miles says he never had one in his pocket.

This morning Wymard showed Porter a picture of Miles taken two weeks after the altercation. The intent was to show that the swelling in Miles face had subsided two weeks later. However, in the pocket of the jacket in the photo was a soda bottle, clearly sticking out of the top.

Miles attorney J. Kerrington Lewis objected to the photo, and another was then shown to the jury.

The existence of a soda bottle the night of the encounter is key to the defense. But if the first photo was an attempt to help plant the idea in jurors' minds, it's not clear how the strategy will play out: The bottle was, after all, clearly visible sticking out of Miles' jacket. So if the bottle is clearly identifiable as such, will jurors conclude that officers would be likely to confuse a similar bottle for a gun?

Harm suffered by Miles

Lewis introduced evidence that in his first semester of his senior year, Miles was doing well in school, carrying a 3.4 GPA and no grade lower than a B. After the incident in January, Miles GPA fell to a 2.4; he received D's and C's except for the A's he continued to receive in his music courses.

In opening arguments, Lewis said Miles suffered brain damage and post traumatic stress disorder because of the incident. And in testimony today, Porter said Miles used to love school, but after the incident "he had trouble with his memory" and struggled with classes that he used to excel in. In fact, in the fall Miles went to The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford but stayed just two weeks. Porter said his departure stemmed from an incident in Miles' dorm when the police had to be called, causing him stress.

"He was like someone who had gone to war," she testified. "He was traumatized."

On cross examination, Wymard walked Porter through the remainder of Miles' high school transcript. His grades were mainly B's and C's in those years, Wymard pointed out, with his b excelled in his music classes.

After Wymard mentioned that for the second or third time, Porter seemed to take offense.

"You know you have to have intelligence to pass those courses," Porter said. "I wouldn't downplay that."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post had an incorrect name for Richard Ewing's attorney.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jordan Miles case gets underway

Posted By on Tue, Jul 17, 2012 at 5:44 PM

If opening arguments are any indication, the eight jurors hearing testimony in the Jordan Miles civil case have a tough road ahead. They will, among other things, have to decide whether Miles was a mild-mannered high-school student who ran afoul of police two years ago ... or whether he's "150 pounds of dynamite," as one of the lawyers facing off against him claimed in federal court today.

And a opening arguments began this afternoon -- they are set conclude at 9:30 Wednesday morning -- jurors were given two completely versions of what happened January 12, 2010 at 11:05 p.m. between Miles, then an 18-year-old student at the CAPA performing arts high school, and three undercover City of Pittsburgh Police officers.

Miles' attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, told jurors that his client was merely walking down Tioga Street in Homewood from his mother's home to his grandmother's when a vehicle drove up on him and one of the three men inside demanded: "Where's your drugs? Where's your money?" Miles ran, Lewis said, because he thought the three men were trying to rob him; they pounced on him and delivered what the attorney called a "savage beating."

Lewis pointed out that Miles was 5'7 and weighed just 150 pounds at the time. The officers -- David Sisak, Michael Saldutte and Richard Ewing -- were all nearly 6 feet tall, each weighing more than 200 pounds.

"Jordan was no match for one of these men, let alone three," Lewis told jurors. Lewis said Miles received brain damage and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. "No one gave him back the mind he had before this happened," Lewis said. "And no one can give him back the peace of mind he had either."

The officers' version of events is quite different. Attorney Bryan Campbell, who represents Officer Saldutte in fact said the two stories were "night and day." Each officer has his own attorney (paid for by the city) and each one is delivering an opening argument. Attorneys for Sisak and Saldutte delivered their openings today; Ewing's will follow tomorrow.

Not that the lawyers are going over the same material. Saludutte's attorney Jim Wymard talked about the officers' version of events while Campbell talked about the level of force the officers used. Ewing's lawyer will handle the medical evidence.

Wymard urged jurors to listen to all of the evidence and wait until the officers had a chance to present their case before making up their minds. The story he told jurors is the one that officers have been telling since Miles' preliminary hearing: The officers in an unmarked car saw Miles on the side of a Tioga Street home, they pulled up slowly beside him, identified themselves as police officers and asked him, "What are you doing sneaking around that house?"

"His response?" asked Wymard. "He bolted, and now the level of suspicion is increased."

Like Lewis, Wymard also described a violent confrontation -- but he makes Miles the aggressor, calling the former CAPA student "150 pounds of dynamite."

Miles will call his first witnesses Tuesday morning and his case is expected to stretch into next week. The entire trial is expected to last between two and three weeks.

Follow updates on the trial through the day here and on Twitter by following @charliedee71.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Layoffs at EDMC continue in Phoenix

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 6:18 PM

About 200 employees of Education Management Corp.'s online operation in Phoenix, Arizona were laid off this afternoon, according to multiple sources within the company.

A former employee of the facility, known as Cotton Center, told City Paper that the laid-off workers included academic counselors, financial-aid counselors and recruiters. According to that source and others, some of the lost jobs were affiliated with online courses offered through EDMC's South University branch; those positions have been eliminated. But other positions will remain open, and laid-off employees have been told they can reapply for them.

The move comes two weeks after the company sent an email to employees telling them that raises were not being given this year, in an effort to preserve jobs. In fact, the Arizona employee who contacted CP today said employees there were pulled into a meeting just two weeks ago "and we were told this was so they could avoid layoffs."

Although laid-off employees were sent home today, they will remain on EDMC's payroll until Aug. 1, on paid administrative leave. On that date, anyone not rehired will receive an additional one week's severance.

EDMC has previously given workers an advanced heads up that layoffs would be coming. In January, for example, employees were given a week's notice they were likely. That did not occur this time, according to sources.

EDMC has had its share of problems this year. Enrollment has lagged, and the company is fighting a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit over the company's recruiting practices. EDMC is also contending with legislation being pushing by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, to limit the amount that for-profit educators can earn from veterans via the G.I. Bill.

Such problems seem to be taking a toll. Despite a stock buyback and hundreds of layoffs in January and after, EDMC's stock has fallen from $30 at the beginning of the year, to around $5.12 as of this afternoon.

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