PITTSBURGH (CN) – A federal judge handed a series of pretrial defeats to three undercover City of Pittsburgh police officers who allegedly beat a black high school student without cause and almost beyond recognition in a case that sparked outrage and triggered racial tensions.
Jordan Miles, now 20, says he was beaten to a pulp by the officers who intercepted him while he was walking to his grandmother’s home in January 2010.
According to Miles, he had just left his mother’s residence when an unmarked vehicle containing the three officers abruptly swerved and stopped in front of him.
As the officers exited the vehicle, one of them shouted, “Where’s your money? Where’s the drugs? Where’s the gun?” his lawsuit says.
“The Plaintiff believed he was going to be attacked and robbed so he began to run,” the lawsuit continues. Miles, however, was only able to go a short distance before he slipped and fell.
With that, the lawsuit says, the officers pounced on the teenager, punching, kicking, kneeing and choking him.
“At one point, the plaintiff’s coat was ripped off his back by one of the officers. Defendants jointly and severely beat, kicked, kneed and choked the plaintiffs… Defendants repeatedly pushed plaintiff’s face into the ground and pulled his hair from his scalp,” the lawsuit says.
“After handcuffing the plaintiff, the Defendants pushed his face into the ground repeatedly and caused plaintiff’s gums to be impaled with a piece of wood,” it continues.
Miles was so terrified for his life during the attack that he “began saying ‘The Lord’s Prayer,'” the suit says.
In response, he says, one of the officers said, “Didn’t he tell you to shut up?”
“Once again plaintiff was choked and then his face slammed into the snow and ground,” the lawsuit says.
Eventually, uniformed officers arrived and transported Mile to the Allegheny County jail, where jail personnel directed he be immediately taken to the hospital due to his “obvious physical injuries,” the complaint says.
After arriving at West Penn Hospital, Miles was treated for a head injury, facial contusions, and removal of the wood impaled in his gums. He was subsequently treated for conjunctival hemorrhage, bilateral rib injuries, abdominal pain, bilateral hip pain, bilateral shoulder pain and hematoma, the complaint said.
The case, accompanied by photographs of Miles’ swollen face, grabbed national headlines, sparking protests over what many perceived as an egregious instance of racial profiling.
The officer-defendants — Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing – filed a criminal complaint against Miles, charging him with loitering and prowling, aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and escape, the complaint said.
They have since said in court papers that the force they used “was reasonable and necessary in order to make the arrest.”
According to an expert report filed by the City of Pittsburgh, the officers thought Miles was carrying a weapon when he began to run.
The officers say they observed “something heavy … in Mr. Miles’s right coat pocket,” the reports says.
“Mr. Miles reached toward the heavy object in his pocket. As he was running, Mr. Miles made a gesture to ensure that the object remained securely in his pocket. The officers’ state that based on their training, experience and the totality of the circumstances, they believed that Mr. Miles was checking to make sure the gun in his pocket was secure,” according to the report’s summary of the cops’ claims.
The officers say they found a Mountain Dew bottle in Miles’ pocket, but the bottle was discarded, the report says, noting that the decision to toss that supposed evidence was “a mistake.”
“Police officers are human beings and can make mistakes. In this case, the officers had just been involved in what they believed to be a life and death struggle. They were totally focused on finding and removing the gun they were certain Mr. Miles possessed. When they found an object that was not contraband and appeared to have no evidentiary significance, they discarded it and continued their search for the weapon,” the report says.
Miles says the bottle never existed.
The Department of Justice said in May that after an intensive investigation, it had decided not to pursue criminal charges against officers involved in the beating.
“After thorough review of all of the evidence, experienced federal officials concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a violation of the applicable federal criminal civil rights statutes,” it said in a statement.
The officer-defendants asked Judge Lancaster to order the United States to release testimony Miles’ friends made to a federal grand jury.
The officers said the friends’ testimony would reveal that Miles or at least one of his friends lied or will lie about the existence of the Mountain Dew bottle or whether Miles was walking in the street or between houses when he was approached by the plain-clothed officers.
But Chief U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster denied the officers’ request Thursday, finding that the officers could have deposed the friends, but didn’t.
“That they chose not to depose these witnesses does not create a situation in which we must sacrifice grand jury secrecy in favor of disclosure,” he wrote.
Lancaster also ruled Thursday that Miles does not have to submit to a mental examination, which the officers said was necessary “to inquire into Plaintiff’s alleged mental/psychiatric injuries.”
The judge denied the examination request as untimely. The trial is set for July 16.