On July 19, dressed in a white blazer and purple shirt, a reserved Jordan Miles took the stand to testify in a civil rights lawsuit against three Pittsburgh police officers who he says attacked him on Jan. 12, 2010.
“It felt as if I was being hit everywhere in my body at the same time,” Miles said while being questioned by his lawyer, Kerrington Lewis.
Miles’ civil suit is the result of a two year battle with Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak, the three officers he says jumped out of a car on that snowy January night and proceeded to ask him for “guns, money and drugs.” In May, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala announced he would not be prosecuting the officers, but Miles’ suit accuses them of false arrest, beating and malicious prosecution.
For many, the most startling testimony of the day was when Miles revealed he was beaten after he had been handcuffed while kneeling in the snow. After trying several times to remove his face from the snow, in order to breathe, Miles said he was repeatedly struck and pushed down by the three officers.
“My heart was racing. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was gasping for air,” Miles said.
Along with a series of questions from the officers’ defense attorneys aimed at poking holes in the accuracy of Miles’ memory and story, the defense’s cases revolves around the idea that Miles knew the men attacking him were plain clothes police officers.
“Isn’t that the real reason you fought the officers? Because you didn’t want to go to jail,” said Defense Attorney James Wymard.
While Miles fielded a slew of detail related questions that were often repeated in different ways by the defense attorneys, he stuck to his claim that he thought he was being attacked and abducted.
“It was not obvious. I didn’t do anything wrong,” Miles said. “I didn’t know of any cops that would behave in that manner.”
During the break between Miles’ morning and afternoon testimony, community activists gathered outside the courthouse to continue demanding “Justice for Jordan.”
“My blood runs as deep as the water which carried slave ships here to the blood flowing in the night when Jordan Miles was beat,” said Kenya Smith, reading a poem he’d written. “You use your devices to shrink men to mice. Therefore, I will forever question your motives. Where they say ‘justice is blind,’ I say the blindfold is only to hide your insecurities.”
The group was made up of members of the Black Political Empowerment Project and Alliance for Police Accountability who spent time listening to Miles’ testimony in the courthouse. Among them was Miles’ sister, Kielan Miles.
“I’m really happy that everyone came out here,” Kielan Miles said. “It’s been really hard, especially listening to Jordan’s testimony. It broke me down.”
Despite the support and attention Miles has received, in the second part of his testimony, the CAPA High School graduate said he never wanted to be a “poster child” for this kind of movement. He said the attention, combined with his psychological trauma, and health issues led him to drop out of college twice.
“It took me out of my element. I’m very quiet and I don’t like attention. And talking about it brought back a lot of memories,” Miles said. “I remember saying it was difficult to focus in school because every week, I had to come back and forth to see the psychiatrist.”
Now in its second week, the trial has included testimony from Miles’ mother and doctors who said the 20-year-old has suffered brain damage since the incident. Future testimony will come from Police Chief Nathan Harper and the three officers who will provide their version of the event.