PITTSBURGH (AP) – One of three White city police officers being sued for allegations of wrongful arrest and using excessive force against a young Black man was grilled Thursday about a soda bottle police claim they thought was a gun bulging the teenage art student’s coat pocket.
Robert Giroux, the attorney for Jordan Miles, asked Officer David Sisak what happened to the bottle that frigid night in January 2010. Sisak testified that fellow Officer Richard Ewing threw the bottle down the street after he discovered it wasn’t a gun.
Sisak acknowledged punching Miles in the head because Sisak thought Miles was reaching for a gun as the officers struggled to subdue Miles, then an 18-year-old senior at the city’s performing arts high school who has no criminal history.
“So this was all done over a pop bottle, is that correct?” Giroux asked. “Yeah,” Sisak responded.
Except Miles contends he didn’t even have the bottle, let alone a gun. Giroux is trying to convince a jury that the officers lied about the bottle – which is why Giroux claims they can’t produce it – so they would have an excuse for the force they used.
Giroux contends Miles fought with the officers because he thought he was being mugged, and suggested it was ludicrous for police to believe he had a gun. Even if the police are telling the truth, Miles certainly would have known he only had a bottle in his pocket and, therefore, would have had no reason to “reach” for it as police claimed, Giroux said.
“Maybe you’re just saying that because you want to explain why you punched him in the head?” Giroux asked Sisak.
Officers Michael Saldutte, Sisak and Ewing – who has since left the Pittsburgh police to work as an officer in suburban McCandless – claim they saw Miles lurking near a home in his high-crime neighborhood of Homewood about 11 p.m. The plainclothes officers contend they exited an unmarked car, showed their badges and announced they were police, and fought with Miles only when he panicked and ran after Saldutte asked why Miles was “sneaking” around.
The officers say the bottle – which has been described in various reports as an empty Mountain Dew container – bulged Miles’ coat pocket and felt “hard” like a gun as the fought to subdue him.
Thursday’s testimony marked the third day of a retrial expected to last the rest of the month. Another federal court jury in August 2012 rejected Miles’ claim that the officers maliciously prosecuted him, but deadlocked on the wrongful arrest and excessive force claims being retried.
Weeks after Miles’ arrest, a city magistrate threw out all the criminal charges against him, including assaulting the officers, because he doubted the police version.
Miles claims the officers hopped out of their car without identifying themselves and asking where his gun, drugs and money were. Giroux and Miles’ other attorney, Joel Sansone, claim that’s a common police tactic meant to unnerve suspected criminals. They contend the officers targeted Miles because he was a young black man with dreadlocks in a bad area of town while Miles was walking from his mother’s home to his grandmother’s, where he planned to sleep, while talking on his cellphone.
Testimony was to continue Friday.