Wednesday, July 18, 2012
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.
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