It's been nearly a year since photos of Jordan Miles' bruised and swollen face surfaced on local newscasts. Those wounds have healed, but as we approach the one-year mark of the former CAPA student's controversial Jan. 12 arrest, frustration festers among some local activists and city officials.
The investigation "is just taking too long," says Nigel Parry, a member of the Justice for Jordan Miles campaign. "Enough is enough. It's just got to end."
Pittsburgh police officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak were placed on paid administrative leave in February following their arrest of Miles, then a CAPA High School student. And as City Paper first reported in August, taxpayers are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to compensate them for staying home.
Thanks to an agreement between the city and the police union, the officers are guaranteed to get the same amount of money, including overtime pay, they were earning before the Miles incident. City records from Jan. 1 through Oct. 8 show that the officers have collectively taken home $216,630.25 ($65,597.87 for Ewing; $72,605.24 for Saldutte; and $78,427.14 for Sisak). According to CP's calculations, by year's end the officers will collectively have earned $233,882 while on paid leave.
"It adds insult to injury," says Paradise Gray, a member of the Alliance for Police Accountability. "It's absolutely ridiculous how long this is taking."
It may take even longer. During a Dec. 7 press conference unveiling a new office to focus on civil-rights violations, U.S. Attorney David Hickton told reporters that the Miles investigation "is an open matter. I do not have a timetable to share with you at this time."
There are conflicting accounts of what happened Jan. 12. Police say Miles was sneaking around a Homewood residence with what they thought was a gun, and that he resisted efforts to subdue him. Miles says the police attacked him without identifying themselves. Miles did not have a gun, and charges against him were dropped. He has since filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the officers and the city.
The city launched an internal investigation into the arrest in February. But after the FBI opened its own case, the city announced it would hold off on the internal review until the federal investigation was completed. District Attorney Stephen Zappala has also said he's waiting for the FBI.
Beth Pittinger, executive director of Pittsburgh's Citizen Police Review Board, says the city need not wait for the feds. City officials can decide whether officers acted inappropriately, she says, even without criminal charges.
"Misconduct is not always unlawful conduct," says Pittinger. By now, she says, the officers either "should be out working or separated from the Bureau of Police. Deal with the criminal issue as it emerges." (The review board itself, however, can't investigate the incident; its charter prohibits investigating cases where a criminal investigation is ongoing.)
"This matter needs to reach a conclusion soon," agrees city councilor Doug Shields. "The officers are in limbo, and the taxpayers are paying for it."
Police brass have said they don't want to act prematurely, in case the FBI turns up something city investigators overlook. But David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh professor who specializes in law-enforcement issues, says that even if the Justice Department declines to prosecute, local officials should act independently.
Federal investigators must meet a higher burden of proof, he notes. While a district attorney might prosecute on evidence of assault, for example, the FBI must "prove all of that, plus that [the crime] was done to violate federal civil rights."
"What you would not want to see is the federal investigation close ... and then the state and local [authorities] say, 'If they can't, we can't,'" Harris adds. "If that would happen, there would be questions to be asked."