Arts student sues over Pittsburgh police beating

Published August 31, 2010

PITTSBURGH – A black teen who attended the city's performing arts high school claims three white Pittsburgh police officers wrongfully assumed he was involved with drugs when they beat him, then allegedly conspired to file false charges against him and concoct a cover story for their actions, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.

Jordan Miles said he had his face pushed into the snow and his gums impaled on a piece of wood, as officers kicked and punched him Jan. 12, a day after his 18th birthday. Thinking he was being kidnapped by the plainclothes officers, who set upon him saying, "Where's your money? Where's the drugs? Where's the gun?" Miles recited "The Lord's Prayer," prompting police to twice choke him and slam his face into the snowy ground, the lawsuit said.

Miles' allegations were reviewed by the FBI and remain under investigation by the civil rights division of the Justice Department, spokeswoman Xochitl (ZOH'-shee) Hinojosa said Monday.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl suspended the officers without pay in February and, at that time, expected to wrap up an internal investigation within a month. Instead, that investigation remains on hold while the Justice Department investigates, and the city will not comment on the lawsuit, said Ravenstahl spokeswoman Joanna Doven.

"Once the higher authority decided to take this case on, their decision, of course, supersedes any possible city action," Doven said Monday. "We are awaiting their results."

Miles' attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, said, "The complaint speaks for itself and Jordan passed a lie detector test on the facts contained in the lawsuit." Lewis said the FBI administered the test months ago, because "they don't proceed (with an investigation) unless they believe they have good foundation to do so."

Miles, a violist who attended the city's prestigious Creative and Performing Arts High School, contends he was walking after dark from his mother's home to his grandmother's when officers Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing set upon him.

The Associated Press could not immediately locate phone numbers or attorneys for the officers, and the president of the officers' union did not immediately respond to a copy of the lawsuit e-mailed by the AP.

Police charged Miles with loitering and prowling, aggravated assault and resisting arrest, claiming he acted suspiciously then fought with them after they clearly identified themselves as officers. Miles said the men didn't identify themselves as officers, and he resisted because he thought he was being assaulted or kidnapped.

A city judge dismissed the charges after a preliminary hearing in March in which a nearby homeowner denied police claims that they asked whether she knew Miles, or if he had permission to be on her property — where police accused him of prowling. The woman testified that Miles is friends with her son and that she never told police he shouldn't be near her residence.

The criminal complaint police filed said Miles was standing against a building "as if he was trying to avoid being seen." The officers claimed to see something heavy in his pocket and believed he was carrying a gun — which police said turned out to be a bottle of soda — though Miles said he didn't even have the soda in his pocket when he was attacked and had dreadlocks pulled from his scalp.

Miles' lawsuit contends police also fudged an affidavit filed with the complaint in which police said Miles "'appeared to be under the influence of controlled substances' even though police drug tests administered prior to the preparation of the Affidavit showed Plaintiff tested negative for drugs," the lawsuit said.

"Defendants jointly and severally subverted and corrupted the judicial process to charge Plaintiff with crimes knowing the charges were false and knowing the evidence was fabricated," the lawsuit said.

The suit seeks unspecified damages and also accused police of using excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and claims the city failed to properly train its officers. The lawsuit contends the officers didn't have probable cause to approach Miles.

Written by JOE MANDAK, Associated Press Writer

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