Zappala urged to press charges

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Kim Keenan, general counsel for the National NAACP, joined Pittsburgh NAACP President M. Gayle Moss and State Conference NAACP President Jerry Mondesire to put Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala in a slightly larger spotlight with regard to his pending decision whether or not to charge the three officers involved in the Jordan Miles case.

Joined by Greater Pittsburgh Urban League President and CEO Esther Bush; Black Political Empowerment Project Chair Tim Stevens; Alliance for Police Accountability Brandi Fisher; Rev. Dr. David Thornton, Pastor, Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church; and NAACP Pittsburgh Vice Presidents Connie Parker and Marcella Lee; the state, national and local representatives again called on Zappala to bring charges against officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte, and David Sisak.

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WE’RE WATCHING—That’s the message National NAACP General Counsel Kim Keenan, center, sent District Attorney Stephan Zappala during a June 21 meeting about the Jordan Miles case. Also attending were NAACP State Conference President Jerry Mondesire, left, Pittsburgh Branch President M. Gayle Moss, right, and Black Political Empowerment Project Chair Tim Stevens, far right. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

After her meeting with Zappala, Moss said he would continue to review the evidence and gave no indication how long it would take. General council Keenan said she had come from national headquarters to meet with the District Attorney because it’s obviously a very important case.

“This is really about the unspeakable. A young man, an honor student, snatched up and beaten until he was unrecognizable,” Keenan said. “Mr. Zappala said he would review the evidence, he has asked for more grand jury testimony, and that’s what we would expect because this isn’t just about Jordan Miles, it’s about children of all colors and making sure they feel safe in their communities.”

Jerry Mondesire said, “We are here in support of the Pittsburgh unit to let the District Attorney know that all 10,000 of the NAACP members in the state are watching.”

“The NAACP is appalled that the U.S. Justice Department ended its investigation into the beating of Jordan Miles without issuing any charges against the officers,” said Moss in a statement released prior to the June 21 meeting. “How can anyone with a conscience look at the photos, know the real story and still say that nothing should happen to those who rendered this terrible beating?”

Miles was arrested by the officers as he walked home Jan. 10, 2010. He tried to flee when first approached, saying the plain-clothes officers did not identify themselves. The officers said he resisted arrest. Miles would up in the hospital with multiple injuries.

District Magistrate Oscar Petite through out charges two months later of resisting arrest and assault brought against Miles, noting the officers’ statement was tainted and likely perjured.

Zappala deferred any action while federal prosecutors conducted a Civil Rights investigation. On May 5, U.S. Attorney David Hickton said the Justice Department would not bring charges because they could not win the case.

Zappala’s spokesman Mike Manko said the office would examine evidence collected by the FBI and announce a decision when its investigation was complete. As of last week, the investigation was still ongoing, he said.

Additionally Miles has sued the officers, the police department and the city in a civil action. On June 14 his attorney Kerry Lewis said the family had rejected a $180,000 settlement offer from the city.

“This case is about more than money,” he said. “This case is about the policies in place that we believe have to be changed.”

One policy, many would like to see changed is the one that allows police to investigate themselves. In all instances where Pittsburgh police misconduct is charged, the charges are investigated by the bureau’s Office of Municipal Investigation. In criminal cases, the district attorney may or may not bring charges. But because district attorneys rely on police work to bring successful prosecutions, it is often a difficult call.

Until rather recently, the Allegheny County Coroner’s office had its own court, and would investigate officers involved in homicides and did recommend officers be charged in some instances.

Zappala successfully challenged then Coroner Cyril Wecht’s authority to do so, saying it damaged his ability to win convictions.

Pittsburgh also has the Civilian Police Review Board, which looks into cases of alleged police abuse, but it is restricted from investigating anything until OMI has done so. It can subpoena witnesses but cannot compel officers to testify to actions that might later lead to their prosecution.

Pittsburgh Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess was scheduled to reintroduce legislation June 22 aimed at increasing police accountability by requiring documentation of every interaction with the public, such as traffic stops, whether a charge was made or not.

Currently there’s nothing in place to discipline police officers, outside of internal affairs.

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