Police abuse trial focuses on victim’s dreadlocks

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PITTSBURGH – The civil rights trial of three white plainclothes city police officers accused of wrongly arresting and beating a young black man centered Monday on testimony about dreadlocks found at the scene that were presumably ripped from the man’s head.


But the witnesses, a police crime scene photographer and another woman in whose yard the arrest occurred, differed on how many dreadlocks were found, as well as where and when.


The man who was arrested on a frigid night in January 2010, Jordan Miles, was then an 18-year-old student at the city’s performing arts high school who claimed the officers jumped out of an unmarked car without identifying themselves, apparently assuming he was a drug dealer and demanding his money, gun and drugs. Miles acknowledges struggling with the officers, but contends he did that simply because he thought he was being mugged.


But the officers, who insist they flashed badges and yelled “Police!”, said Miles appeared to be a prowler with a bulging coat pocket the officers took to be a gun, who got hurt only when he resisted arrest. The officers contend they later determined the bulge was caused by an empty soda bottle, which Miles denies carrying. He also denies lurking near a house when police arrived, saying he was walking to his grandmother’s house on a sidewalk, talking to a girl on his cellphone.


The officers, Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing – who has since left the city police to work in a suburb – said many of Miles’ facial injuries occurred when he was tackled by Sisak and driven through a shrub, head-first. Miles has insisted he was never driven through the bush and has said the officers ripped the locks from his head in another part of the yard.


On the witness stand, the photographer, Detective Lisa McCoy, testified about two hair braids she photographed on the ground some 16 days after Miles’ arrest for the Office of Municipal Investigations, a city agency that probes citizen complaints of police misconduct. McCoy testified the two dreadlocks she found were different than two that another photographer working for OMI had found days earlier.


One of Miles’ attorneys, Joel Sansone, tried to suggest police had planted some dreadlocks near the bush.


McCoy testified that both sets of dreadlocks were found close to the shrub on the property of Patricia Coleman, who testified she knew Miles casually because her son played basketball with him in their crime-ridden Homewood neighborhood.


Coleman said she saw two dreadlocks hanging from the shrub the morning after Miles’ arrest, plus two others on the ground nearby. But, Coleman said, the two dreadlocks on the ground were gone by the time she returned home from work later that day.


Miles’ other attorney, Robert Giroux, questioned Coleman about voices she heard outside about the time Miles was arrested while she watched TV in her bedroom. She remembered hearing someone yell “Help!” three times. Coleman also told Giroux she never heard anyone yelling “Stop! Pittsburgh police!” as the officers claim.


That’s consistent with Miles’ version that he yelled for assistance because he thought he was being robbed. But defense attorney James Wymard suggested on cross-examination that his client, Officer Sisak, may have yelled for help after Miles allegedly donkey-kicked him in the knee.


Wymard also asked Coleman if she heard anyone shout, “Where’s your money, where’s your drugs, where’s your gun?” as Miles contends, and Coleman said, “No.”


Testimony was expected to continue all week.


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