When attorney Joel Sansone heard the jury announce that it found Pittsburgh police officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak not guilty of using excessive force when they beat Jordan Miles during a January 2010 arrest, he said he thought they’d lost.
But the jury wasn’t finished, it found all three guilty of false arrest. It then awarded Miles $101,016.75 in compensatory damages, but only $6,000 per each officer in punitive damages. The city of Pittsburgh will cover the damages. Though less than Miles had hoped for It’s a win.
“It’s a victory on my behalf because the jury found the police officers guilty,” said Miles outside the federal courthouse. “But it’ not over because God didn’t say it was over.”
Typically, in civil verdicts where damages are awarded punitive damages–those intended to punish the guilty party and send a message–exceed those designed to compensate the plaintiff for any material, physical or emotional loss. The small punitive awards in this case left Sansone and other observers confused.
“I’m not bubbling with joy here, but it’s a win,” said Black Political Empowerment Project President Tim Stevens. “One thing I know is that the family wanted Jordan to have his day in court, and he did. The officers were found to have committed false arrest. From a community standpoint, it sends a signal–just not as big a signal as we’d have liked.”
Though saying he was still trying to get his head around the split verdict, Sansone said a six-figure damage award is significant. But he urged US Attorney David Hickton and the Justice Department Civil Right Division to revisit Miles case. He said they should be prosecuted and fired.
“There was evidence brought to light in this trial that was not available earlier (when federal officials declined to prosecute) and I call on the the city and the US attorney to reopen their investigations. They should look at why these individuals even have guns.
Throughout this trial and an earlier one that ended in a hung jury, Miles has insisted he ran when the plainclothes-officers spilled from an unmarked car and demanded his “money and drugs” without ever identifying themselves as police.
They subdued him after a brief chase and during the arrest beat him severely and pulled out large chunks of his hair.
The officers said Miles resisted, and they used force to secure him. They said they stopped him because he was “sneaking around” and had a “bulge” in his pocket. They later said it was a bottle of Mountain Dew, but no such bottle was ever produced as evidence.
Mayor Bill Peduto released a statement saying it is time to start rebuilding trust between the community and the police because the events in Homewood four years ago “hurt us all in some way.”