Brian Bowling and Bobby Kerlik, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review—A Homewood teenager who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and three Pittsburgh police officers wants a judge to take the officers off the street.
Jordan Miles, 18, claims in the suit filed yesterday that officers Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing beat him during a Jan. 12 confrontation on Tioga Street and then lied in their affidavit to justify the injuries that sent him to West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield.
The lawsuit seeks damages and a permanent injunction “limiting the defendants’ contact with the public.” Miles’ attorney J. Kerrington Lewis said the money is secondary.
“We’re asking to have the officers removed from the force,” he said. “We want them to be enjoined from acting as police officers.”
City solicitor Dan Regan and Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, declined comment.
The city put the officers on paid leave weeks after it began investigating Miles’ claims, which sparked charges of racism — Miles is black and the officers are white — and an ongoing federal investigation.
The case pits claims by an honors student who graduated from the Creative and Performing Arts high school and enrolled this month in college against charges by three decorated officers praised for taking guns from criminals in a dangerous neighborhood.
Attorneys for the officers said their clients did nothing wrong, noting Miles had no broken bones or stitches.
“They used sufficient force to subdue him,” said Sisak’s lawyer, James Wymard, who said the officers were carrying out a legitimate investigation, and Miles overreacted.
Bill Difenderfer, who represents Saldutte, said his client was part of a patrol set up to prevent crimes in high-crime areas.
“He acted entirely appropriate under the circumstances,” Difenderfer said.
Bob Del Greco, the attorney representing Ewing, referred questions to the Fraternal Order of Police.
“If it goes to trial, I hope the City of Pittsburgh Law Department fights the case, and I believe it’ll have the same outcome,” said Charles Hanlon, vice president of the police union. “Mike, Dave and Rick did exactly what they were trained to do in a lawful way, and that’s how the decision will come out in a civil trial.”
University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said Miles is unlikely to obtain the permanent injunction, because judges can only order public officials to perform actions they’re legally required to carry out, not ones where they have discretion.
Even if Miles’ lawyers can convince a federal jury or judge that the city “should” have fired the officers, “That’s not enough,” Burkoff said. “They have to establish an absolute obligation.”
The lawsuit and police account vary on most details of what happened Jan 12.
In the lawsuit, Miles says he was walking from his mother’s house to his grandmother’s house when the officers, wearing civilian clothes, pulled up in an unmarked car and accosted him as one yelled, “Where’s your money? Where’s the drugs? Where’s the gun?”
The officers say in their affidavit that Saldutte identified himself and displayed his badge before trying to question Miles about why he was lurking in the dark near a house. Miles ignored the questions and kept walking, the affidavit says.
The officers say they were concerned that a “large, heavy object” Miles carried in a coat pocket was a weapon, but it turned out to be a bottle of Mountain Dew.
Miles said he didn’t have a weapon or a soda bottle in his coat pocket, and police found nothing.
All agree that he tried to run away and slipped on snow and ice.
Miles says the officers punched, kicked and kneed him, pulled out some of his hair, and repeatedly pushed his face into the ground, causing a piece of wood to impale his gum. He said they choked him as he tried to recite The Lord’s Prayer.
The officers say he ignored commands to stay down and fought officers as they handcuffed him.
They charged Miles with aggravated assault and resisting arrest. District Judge Oscar Petite dismissed the charges during a hearing March 4.
“Plaintiff was arrested by defendants without probable cause, knowing that the only crimes committed were those committed by the defendants in beating plaintiff to a pulp,” the lawsuit states.
It claims the city failed to properly train, supervise and discipline its officers.
The Justice Department is investigating Miles’ claims but has not filed charges.
Lewis said he would prefer to see criminal charges against the officers but decided to file the civil lawsuit because federal officials met with the family six weeks ago and said they weren’t optimistic about bringing charges against the officers.
Representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI in Pittsburgh referred questions to the Justice Department in Washington. Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa declined to comment on Lewis’ claims.
“Our investigation is ongoing, and we decline further comment at this time,” she said.