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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A lawsuit in the making: How a 1991 ruling set the stage for an ACLU suit last week

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 1:37 PM

There's a lot of talk going on about the ACLU's lawsuit alleging discriminatory hiring practices at the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. I have a column about it in today's issue, and the Post-Gazette editorial board opined on it as well.

Here's the thing that has been left out of the discussion so far: None of this is a surprise. Today's dismal hiring rates were set in motion more than 20 years ago, and just about everyone who was paying attention -- including the guy who made it happen -- saw what was coming.

In fact, as spelled out here yesterday, the lack of diversity will almost certainly get worse, because recent recruiting classes are less diverse than the roster of veterans they are being added to. So how did those veterans get on the force in the first place? And why is that no longer happening? That's what we look at below.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

EDMC reports revenues, enrollment down on heels of more layoffs

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2012 at 4:00 AM

First Education Management Corp. froze wages to avoid layoffs. Then they laid off employees and closed down an online branch in Phoenix. None of those actions, however, could stave off even more layoffs at the downtown for-profit educator.

According to multiple sources inside the company, more than 50 but fewer than 100 employees were laid off Wednesday from various locations in the city. EDMC operates its downtown headquarters, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and online education facilities in the Strip and in Greentree.

The layoffs came the day before the company's quarterly earnings report. According to filings with the U.S. Seurities and Exchange Commission, the company reported net quarterly revenues of $639.2 million, down more than nine percent from the same time last year. The company says the loss “was primarily driven by a 9.3% decline in April 2012 student enrollment as compared to April 2011.”

For the fiscal year the company reported a smaller loss over the previous year of 5.7 percent. Net revenues were $2.76 billion compared to $2.89 billion in 2011. Even more stark is the company's loss in cash flow. Two years ago there was so much cash on hand that the company started a program to buy back its own stock – at a cost to date of nearly $300 million. On Thursday the company reported it had just $10.9 million cash on hand compared to $399.7 million the year before. According to its filings, EDMC paid out $210 million to issue a letter of credit with the U.S. Department of Education to allow the company continued access to federal financial aid programs.

The company also reported drops in enrollment in the fourth quarter. Overall enrollment at the company's online and brick and mortar schools for the quarter was down nearly 11 percent over the same quarter last year. As of June 30, 2012 total enrollment across all brands – Art Institute, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College and South University was 124,600, down from 139,800 a year ago. 

The online programs, where the bulk of the company's layoffs have taken place this past year is down a whopping 19.4 percent over the same time last year. Part of those numbers are very easily attributed to a steep drop in new student enrollments of slightly more than 20 percent. None of the brands did well attracting new students. Enrollment at the Art Institutes – which has its flagship school here in Pittsburgh – is down more than 18 percent. Enrollment at Argosy is down a whopping 26.7 percent, down 21.2 percent at South and 15.9 percent at Brown Mackie.

“The current environment is unprecedented in the number of challenges that we face but at the same time offers amny positive opportunities,” outgoing CEO Todd Nelson said on Thursday's conference call. “The primary reasons for the decline in enrollment are tuition and concerns about debt.”

Nelson said, however, that he believes EDMC will continue to be an important player in providing post-secondary education because of the quality of the product that the school provides. He pointed to gainful employment data provided by the U.S. Department of education that shows that graduates from EDMC schools earn about five percent more than graduates from similar programs at other schools.

While that can be considered an achievement, it's certainly not one to be taken without a cautious eye. At the end of July, 5,000-page two-year audit of the for-profit education sector led by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin labeled the for-profit sector “and abject failure.”

According to the Post-Gazette:

Issued Monday, the scathing 5,000-page document blasts the for-profit education industry for recruiting too aggressively, for spending more on marketing than teaching, for producing too few graduates, for charging significantly higher tuition than comparable public schools, for tying salaries to recruitment and for giving prospective students unrealistic impressions of potential post-graduate employment and earnings.

Students are ill-equipped to repay the loans because most fail to complete their degree programs, while others graduate to find low-paying jobs in the fields they studied, the report found.

Default rates are 22.5 percent for students at for-profit schools, compared with 9 percent for students at other schools, and their loans are typically more because tuition is higher.

An associate's degree in web design and interactive media from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, for example, costs $47,410, according to the report. Community College of Allegheny County offers the same degree for $6,800.

...EDMC is a rare exception, spending more on instruction than it banks as profit, according to the report. It spent $3,460 per student on instruction in 2009, while its for-profit competitors spent between $892 and $3,969. Still, EDMC spent even more on marketing than teaching: $4,158.

The company, which will release it's annual report at the end of August, is in a current state of flux. On Aug. 15, Nelson leaves his post as CEO to become the chairman of the board, replacing longtime chair Jock McKernan, who will remain as a director. Ed West, the current chief financial officer will step into Nelson's role as CEO.

McKernan is the former governor of Maine and husband of retiring Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, a marriage that has also been a point of controversy for the company. Nelson, as often been the lightning rod for critics who have questioned his running of EDMC coming off his tenure as CEO at the University of Phoenix where he and the school were successfully sued for the way the school paid its frecruiters.

Additionally, EDMC is fighting a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit over the company's student recruiting practices. If EDMC loses the case, it might have to repay billions of dollars in federal financial aid given to its students.

And if things couldn't get much worse, as of thise writing, the company's stock price – which was nearly $30 a share in January – was trading at $3.14 a share.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Miles jury finds for officers on one claim; deadlocks on more serious claims of abuse, false arrest

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2012 at 4:15 PM

Despite deliberating for parts of five days, the jury in the Jordan Miles civil lawsuit delivered a partial verdict in favor of officers Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing but deadlocked on the more serious claims of excessive force and false arrest.

In the high-profile case of a black former honor student who was beaten by three white police officers, the jury found in favor of the officers on a single claim, that of malicious prosecution. But on the other two charges, the jury’s foreman — the lone African American on the jury — told U.S. District Court Judge Gary Lancaster, “We are hopelessly deadlocked.”

Jordan Miles said nothing to reporters as he left the courtroom. He filed the civil lawsuit because, he says, the three officers jumped him on a Homewood street in January 2010, failed to identify themselves and beat him until he was unrecognizable. The trial has taken its toll on Miles, as every aspect of his young life was paraded in front of a jury.

The officers also left without speaking — although Sisak was not in court for the verdict — but their attorneys seemed emboldened by the verdict. Attorney Bryan Campbell, who represented Saldutte and represents the Fraternal Order of Police, was asked what message the verdict sends to the public. His response: “The cops are usually right.”

The three officers claim they saw Miles skulking around a neighbor’s house at 11 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010. They stopped him and identified themselves, they say. And they say Miles had a bulge in his jacket, acted like he had a gun and ran. They say he later assaulted Sisak and Saldutte and was the aggressor in the altercation, despite being outweighed by the officers’ combined weight of more than 600 pounds. Charges against him, however, were later dropped.

General reaction to this story will be broadcast and written about everywhere in the next 24 hours, but there are some things worth noting. Miles’ legal team intends to retry the case on the claims of excessive force and false arrest. When told of that, Campbell told reporters, “Be our guest. They won’t get a different result.”

That could be a fair assumption, except that on retrial Miles’ attorneys say they intend to try to present a lot of evidence that this jury wasn’t allowed to hear. Particularly about the way the officers have conducted themselves in previous cases. 

Tim O’Brien, one of Miles’ lawyers, said there was evidence of past arrests by the officers when they used similar force on a suspect. They have also, according to O’Brien, been involved in arrests where they have likewise claimed that suspects had a suspicious bulge in their coat, force was used and, again, no weapon was recovered. Miles’ lawyers were barred from presenting such evidence in this trial because the judge ruled, basically, that it would unfairly prejudice a jury against the officers. 

Lancaster would be in charge of a retrial. But, O’Brien says, he believes that things have changed.

“This jury didn’t get to hear this evidence, “ he said, but added that “things happened in this trial” — testimony and facts were presented that could allow the evidence to be admitted at future proceedings.

Even the officers’ one-time supervisor, police Commander Rashall Brackney, had concerns about the three officers in the past.

From City Paper’s most recent trial coverage:

According to court documents, Brackney gave a deposition in which she claimed the trio “had a history of lying and taking action” even if a suspect's behavior had “not ris[en] to [the] level of reasonable suspicion.” Brackney had apparently ordered that Sisak and Ewing “be closely monitored and supervised.” Such claims might have thrown light on the Miles case, in which the officers are accused of chasing down Miles for no good reason, and inventing a justification for it afterward.

If a jury was having trouble believing that three police officers would do something as horrible as Miles claims they did, evidence like that could have pushed them toward a verdict in Miles’ favor. With new evidence or without, though, a second trial — barring a settlement from the city — will happen.

“Mr. Miles is a good guy, he’s a good man,” said Miles attorney J. Kerrington Lewis. “We will go back at it.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Even a verdict in civil case doesn't necessarily mean the end of the line for Miles case

Posted By on Tue, Aug 7, 2012 at 4:00 PM

Jurors in the Jordan Miles civil case reported Tuesday afternoon that they are having "difficulty in reaching a unanimous verdict," according to federal judge Gary Lancaster. 

The judge gave the jurors further instructions to continue deliberating and told jurors, "each of you should decide for yourself" but they should "be open to other positions."

The jury was still deliberating at 3 p.m. Tuesday and many believe a verdict either way will end the two-and-a-half year old Miles saga. If the jury comes back deadlocked, a second trial would be held.

Civil proceedings aside, however, the Miles case still has one more venue to be heard – The Citizens Police Review Board. Miles filed a complaint with the board in the days following the Jan. 12, 2010, incident when he says he was jumped and beaten by officers David Sisak, Richard Ewing and Michael Saldutte.

That complaint, says Beth Pittinger, CPRB executive director, is still pending. Pittinger spoke to City Paper outside of Lancaster's courtroom Tuesday afternoon about the complaint.

At the board's last meeting Pittinger says CPRB members agreed to wait until after the pending civil case before determining whether full hearing should be held. The board will take that matter up at their next meeting in September.

A CPRB hearing is different than the federal civil trial held the past three weeks. For example, in the civil case, it was ruled that jurors could not hear or consider testimony about the officers' past history including discipline or prior complaints. In a CPRB hearing, however, Pittinger says that information is very much admissible and could be considered.

And there could be some significant testimony in that regard, according to court filings.

 According to a January 2012 CP story:

Only McCauley's report summarizes the contents of a deposition given by Commander Rashall Brackney. According to McCauley's summary, Brackney asserted all three officers "had a history of lying and taking action when not rising to [the] level of reasonable suspicion."

Brackney testified, according to McCauley's report, that officer Ewing was "untruthful regarding [a] police pursuit involving an accident with vehicle damage." In addition, McCauley writes, Brackney "mandated PO Sisak and PO Ewing be closely monitored and supervised."

"The striking difference between the two [opinions] is Miles' expert's inclusion of the facts from the Rashall Brackney interview," says David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who specializes in police issues. "That's potentially very significant."

When asked if Brackney could testify in a CPRB proceeding, Pittinger said the board had subpoena power to compel any police officer to testify. In fact, the three officers would also likely be subpoenaed, although in the past some police officers haven't always answered questions when appearing before the board, but they must appear.

It's unclear how much longer the jury will deliberate today or how much longer the judge will require them to deliberate without reaching a verdict. It is clear though, Lancaster is hopeful that this case reaches a conclusion, telling the jury, "we try cases to dispense with them."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Miles case in jurors' hands as plaintiff's attorney makes final argument,

Posted By on Thu, Aug 2, 2012 at 4:59 PM

The jury in the Jordan Miles civil lawsuit began deliberating at about 3 p.m. after a day spent hearing case summations from attorneys representing Miles and Officers Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing.

We reported some highlights from the officers' attorneys here. They told jurors that common sense would lead them to find for the officers. After lunch, however, Miles' attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, said common sense was on his side in what he called "a case of great significance."

Here are highlights from Lewis' closing arguments:

On the officers' intentions:

"They came down that street and they thought he was a black, drug-dealing punk and they were going to take him down. Well they took him down for the rest of his life."

On the Mountain Dew bottle:

"Even if he had a pop bottle like they've been telling you for three weeks, is he really going to go for that bottle [during a struggle]. It's delusional. It's ridiculous. It's stupid. It's so ridiculous that it should be dismissed for the story that it is. They thought it would all work out because they thought he was a bad kid, but it didn't work out because he's a good kid."

On the police account of events:

"That report is phony. It was made up two hours later. They knew they had beaten him badly. They've got him as a cat burglar [and acting as a drug dealer would]. That's all boilerplate language. They needed an excuse for what they'd done."

On the subject of damages:

"Is this about money? Yes because it's his only recourse. Should he go out and hire six thugs to go give them what they gave him? That's not our way."

On Jordan Miles:

"[Miles] has led an exemplary life in an environment [Homewood] that [the defense] has graphically given you a picture of. There are kids who grow up in the best neighborhoods in this country that would be lucky to measure up to this kid."

Police in Miles case make their final pitch to jurors

Posted By on Thu, Aug 2, 2012 at 1:02 PM

Jordan Miles' version of his January 2010 altercation with three Pittsburgh police officers is based on lies, defense attorneys told jurors Thursday morning during closing arguments. And while they portrayed Miles as "150 pounds of dynamite" at the outset of the trial, a defense attorney today likened him to "the little boy who cried wolf."

Miles' federal lawsuit against the three officers involved -- Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing -- has gone on for two weeks. Throughout, Miles has said the officers jumped out of their unmarked police car, failed to identify themselves as police, demanded guns, money and drugs and beat him when he tried to flee and choked him while handcuffed. He says he thought the three men were going to rob him. Officers, meanwhile, say they did identify himself, that Miles was sneaking around a neighbor's house, and that he acted like he had a gun in his pock, which later turned out to be a bottle of pop.

This morning, they got their final chance to make that claim to jurors. So far, two of the three defense attorneys have spoken. Ewing's attorney, Robert Leight, will deliver his closing statements when court resumes this afternoon. That will be followed with a final argument by Miles' attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis.

The judge spent a good chunk of the morning instructing jurors on the law. They should begin deliberating this afternoon and continue tomorrow.

During closing arguments, defense attorney Jim Wymard told jurors that common sense backed up the officers' version of events. The officers followed their training, he said, and they had suspicion to stop Miles on Jan. 12, 2010.

"They see him hiding, concealing himself," Wymard said. "They can't simply drive by and leave it alone. It's their duty."

Wymard said the officers' version of events is supported by the evidence. Sisak says he tackled Miles through the hedges on a neighboring property. That home's owner, Patrica Colman and her son testified that the next morning the hedges were broken down and there were braids hanging on the branches. Doctors also removed a stick from Miles' gums later that night. Miles says, hwever, he never went through hedges.'

"[Miles'] version was to avoid those hedges because then it had to be the officers who pulled his hair out, and not the hedge" Wymard said. "But clearly Jordan Miles went through the hedges even though he says he didn't."

Wymard finished his statement by calling the three officers "heroes, doing the work that no one else wants in the city's toughest zone."

Defense attorney Bryan Campbell also took shots at Miles. Miles' lawyers have attempted to show he was an honor student who suffered cognitive damage after the beating. Testimony showed Miles' academic career at CAPA High School was rough the first two years, but that for most of his junior and senior year, he was an honor student with GPAs. But Campbell took shots at that record in his closing.

"He says he was an honor student," Campbell said. "He was an honor student at CAPA."

Campbell said that while Miles a "gift from God" when it came to music, Miles' performance in academic classes was only average. "Does he really want to go to college?" Campbell asked, referring to the fact that Miles had dropped out.

Campbell wrapped up his remarks by suggesting Miles had come under tremendous public pressure since the case took off. Campbell argued that after being arrested, Miles had made up a story "that he never thought would go beyond his mother and his grandmother. He never thought it would be investigated by the FBI, the police and the Citizens Police Review Board."

"He's a lot like the little boy who cried wolf."


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