PITTSBURGH (AP) – The last of three white city police officers being sued for alleged civil rights violations denied wrongfully arresting or illegally roughing up the young black performing arts high school student who sued them over the incident, which occurred more than four years ago.
“I feel what we did was appropriate given the actions of Mr. Miles,” Officer Michael Saldutte testified Tuesday in the federal civil rights trial.
Saldutte was referring to Jordan Miles, then 18, who was arrested on a frigid night in January 2010 after police claim they saw him lurking near a house in his high-crime neighborhood, with a bulge in his coat pocket the officers believed to be a gun. Police said the bulge turned out to be a bottle of soda.
Saldutte and officers David Sisak and Richard Ewing – who now works for a suburban police department – contend they identified themselves as police before Miles ran away once Saldutte asked Miles why he was “sneaking around.” The other officers have testified.
Miles, who is expected to testify later this week, has claimed the officers aggressively rushed from their car asking him where his gun, drugs and money were because, Miles contends, they assumed he was a drug dealer given his race and dreadlocks. Miles, who said he was merely walking from his mother’s house to his grandmother’s where he planned to sleep, acknowledges resisting arrest and fighting to get away, but only because he believed he was being mugged and didn’t realize the three were police.
But Miles also denies having the full 20-ounce plastic bottle of Mountain Dew, which consumed much of Saldutte’s testimony, and which police say bulged Miles’ pocket and felt “hard” like a weapon. The officers acknowledge kneeing Miles repeatedly, and punching him in the head, but said that was all necessary to keep him from reaching for what they believed was a gun.
Miles’ attorneys contend the bottle – which police said was thrown away at the scene – was concocted as an after-the-fact ruse to give the officers an excuse for beating an unarmed suspect.
Saldutte testified he found the bottle in Miles’ pocket after he was handcuffed and nonchalantly “tossed it aside.”
“I didn’t think anything of it,” Saldutte said.
Earlier in the trial, however, Sisak testified that when police discovered Miles only had a bottle, Ewing became so angry he threw it down the street. Sisak didn’t specify whether Ewing took the bottle out of Miles’ pocket, leaving open the possibility that Ewing threw the bottle after Saldutte found it, if the police version is to be believed.
One of Miles’ attorneys, Joel Sansone, asked Saldutte why an FBI report described the bottle as “empty” and why other details of Saldutte’s testimony didn’t jibe with the FBI report.
Repeating one of Saldutte’s earlier answers, Sansone asked, “You said, ‘Sometimes when I speak, sometimes my mind doesn’t go along with what I said.’ Is that what happened here?”
Saldutte said the FBI didn’t always take down his exact words.
The FBI’s criminal civil rights investigation resulted in no charges against the officers. On the other hand, a local district judge said he didn’t find the police version credible in dismissing assault and all other criminal charges against Miles at a hearing two months after his arrest.
Miles’ lawsuit was heard by another jury two years ago, which cleared the officers of allegations they prosecuted Miles maliciously. But that jury couldn’t decide the excessive force and wrongful arrest claims that are the focus of the current retrial.