99 Problems: Run-in with Jordan Miles wasn't first controversial incident for three 99-car cops | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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99 Problems: Run-in with Jordan Miles wasn't first controversial incident for three 99-car cops 

"Unless the police brass begins punishing violators, the department will never be brought under control."

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The depositions also reveal incidents years before the Miles case that raised concerns for Brackney, the officers' supervisor at the time.

In one 2006 case that led to an internal investigation, Ewing and another officer were involved in a traffic stop that started when they pulled over an African-American man named Sam Gibson "for a registration issue with his plates," according to Brackney's testimony.

After running his driver's license, Ewing and Officer Jonathan Killmeyer, who were in uniform, found that there was a warrant from Georgia connected to Gibson — but that it was a non-extradition warrant, meaning they couldn't take him into custody.

According to Brackney's testimony, they asked "if [Gibson] had any drugs, weapons, or dead bodies in the vehicle." The officers searched the car and patted down Gibson and his nephew, who was in the car with him, according to the deposition.

But internal investigators could never find paperwork showing consent was obtained for the search, and their traffic-stop report "indicated that none of the occupants were frisked, which is contradictory to both Officer Ewing's and Killmeyer's statement that Mr. Gibson and his nephew were both patted down," according to an internal investigative report cited in the deposition.

After Gibson lodged a complaint, the city's Office of Municipal Investigations found that Ewing and Killmeyer had conducted "an illegal search and seizure," Brackney's deposition shows.

"I had concluded ... that my officers were not truthful in their reporting of their official police reports and their traffic stops that they had submitted for review to their supervisors," Brackney testified. "I recommended that they be disciplined. I also recommended that they be retrained and counseled."

Brackney isn't the only supervisor who recommended retraining after expressing concern over the officers' use of warrantless searches.

Roughly three years after the Gibson traffic stop, and about a month before the Lamar Johnson incident, Kacsuta warned then-Zone 5 Commander Kevin Kraus about an incident in which Ewing, Saldutte and Sisak "forcibly" entered a residence without a warrant, according to a memo obtained under the state's right-to-know law.

The November 2009 incident unfolded after the officers used a confidential informant to arrest a "male juvenile" they suspected of selling drugs off a porch. When they arrested their suspect, he yelled, "‘Get out of here bro,' indicating he had a co-conspirator," according to the memo.

Though it's not entirely clear, the memo suggests the search for a co-conspirator led the officers at around 10 p.m. to an apartment occupied by an elderly woman. "They heard noise inside the apartment and forcibly entered without a search warrant. [The woman] told the officers that some people had been hanging out on her porch and was too afraid to ask them to leave or call the police," Kacsuta wrote.

"I do not believe that the officers had probable cause. ... However, even giving the officers the benefit of the doubt and concluding that they may have had probable cause, they did not have exigent circumstances. Without exigent circumstances, a search warrant is required to forcibly enter a home to search for drugs."

Kacusta wrote that the officers "did not assess" the risk of entering the residence and "did not follow the operational plan," adding that she recommends retraining in criminal procedure, rules regarding search warrant and exceptions, and additional training "regarding narcotics investigation."

But, she added, Ewing, Sisak and Saldutte "are very ambitious officers who are under pressure to succeed. They are not malicious in their actions, but in their zest to make this drug case, they made a mistake."

Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Sonya Toler said that neither Saldutte and Sisak, both active police officers, was authorized to speak without Chief Cameron McLay's permission and that he couldn't give permission because "he doesn't know the background" of the incidents. She noted he would be briefed and would agree to an interview "as soon as possible." That did not occur by press time.

Ewing did not respond to a request made through McCandless Chief Gary Anderson, who confirmed Ewing is currently an officer there, but wouldn't comment further.

Toler said she would not comment on the officers' disciplinary records, citing the police union's contract with the city.

Kraus, the commander to whom the Kacsuta memo was addressed, said he didn't recall the incident, and otherwise said the officers were among the best. He's now a chief deputy in the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office.

In fact, when choosing officers for his zone's undercover 99 units, "All the information that I reviewed and the people who applied for it — hands down those were the best applicants for [those] positions."

Kraus would not comment extensively on the officer's histories, but said one of the things that impressed him were Ewing, Sisak and Saldutte's arrest statistics.

Felony arrests for narcotics and firearms were all considered, Kraus says. And according to the bureau's reports, Saldutte and Ewing led the department in weapons (VUFA) arrests, with 99 between the two of them in 2009. Adding Sisak's 32 arrests, the trio were responsible for 20 percent of weapons arrests within the entire bureau of police that year. Sisak was responsible for 1,000 arrests over a four-year period ending in August 2009, his deposition shows.

But lots of details about how the officers were chosen for undercover 99-car work don't come through in each of their depositions.

According to Ewing, for instance, Sgt. Robert Lee recommended him in his application to work in a 99 car, but he didn't learn until after the fact that Lee had recommended him.

In another question from a Miles attorney, this time in Sisak's deposition, it's revealed that Lee recommended Sisak for the position "no matter what you may have heard about him," noting problems with "p.m. supervisors." Sisak replies that he doesn't know of any issues with those supervisors.

For his part, the ACLU's Walczak is pushing for the police to better monitor encounters with the general public by making the department's officers document all pedestrian stops. It would allow supervisors to look at officer behavior and drive a conversation about how different communities should be policed.

Walczak says the three stops described above involving Ewing, Sisak and Saldutte "raise serious questions and concerns about these officers' regard for Fourth Amendment rights of African-American suspects. With conduct like this, it's no wonder that communities of color are afraid of and dislike the police."

Campbell, the police-union lawyer, expressed frustration with that sentiment and the current wave of outrage toward police practices — from Pittsburgh to Ferguson, Mo.

He says the media largely ignore how police are trained, which is why cases like Miles' "got blown all out of proportion. ... They set their own standards for what officers can or can't do.

"Officers are trained and they act in a certain way — and the general public and the media say, ‘We don't have to look at it through those eyes.'"

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