Three white plainclothes Pittsburgh police officers who had been suspended with pay for more than 15 months will be reinstated now that a city investigation has failed to "prove or disprove" allegations that they wrongly beat a black teen.
Police Chief Nate Harper and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced the city's findings and reinstatement decision Thursday, a day after the Justice Department closed its investigation without filing civil rights charges against officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak for the injuries they inflicted on Jordan Miles.
"It has been determined there is insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegations made by Mr. Miles," Harper said.
Miles, now 19, is a violist and was enrolled at the city's Creative and Performing Arts high school when he encountered the officers while walking near a neighbor's home in the early evening of Jan. 12, 2010. The officers contend Miles was acting suspiciously and thought he had a gun — which the officers claimed they later determined was a bottle of Mountain Dew soda.
Miles acknowledges trying to run and struggling with the officers, but only because he contends they didn't identify themselves as police and he believed he was being robbed or otherwise accosted. Miles said he was punched and kicked and some of his dreadlocks were pulled from his scalp. Moreover, he contends the officers working a special anti-drug detail in a high-crime area approached him simply because he was a young black man and later concocted the claims that he was acting suspiciously — denying that he even had a soda bottle, much less a gun.
Ravenstahl suspended the officers on Feb. 1, 2010, after Miles went public with his allegations and pictures of his head, swollen and misshapen from the beating, permeated the news. At that time, Ravenstahl expected the internal investigation to wrap up in a month — but its outcome was indefinitely delayed by the federal investigation.
Shortly after the officers were suspended, a district judge dismissed charges of loitering and prowling, aggravated assault and resisting arrest against Miles after a preliminary hearing at which Saldutte testified. The judge noted, specifically, the testimony of the alleged prowling victim in clearing Miles.
The woman, who lives about 70 yards from Miles, testified that police never asked whether she knew Miles or if he had permission to be on her property — and said Miles was friends with her son. That testimony contradicted a police affidavit that said she denied knowing Miles and told police he didn't have permission to be on her property.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton called the case "difficult and troubling" but said there wasn't enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers willfully violated Miles' rights.
Fraternal Order of Police president Dan O'Hara said after the news conference that he didn't expect the officers to comment on their case or their reinstatement. "I think they're just going to concentrate on getting integrated back into the department," O'Hara said.
Harper said the officers will not work in the same area of the city where they had been assigned, and that other specifics about their duties, including whether they'll remain in plainclothes, have yet to be determined. The officers will be required to pass physicals before returning to duty because they have been off work for so long, Harper said.
Miles could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday, but his mother, Terez Miles, said the city's decision was "unfortunate because I think the officers are clearly guilty of wrongdoing." She said federal authorities "went out of their way to say they didn't think the police did anything right here or that Jordy did anything wrong. "
"The only problem is they were unable to find enough evidence to move forward with the prosecution," she said, adding that: "The fact that these three police officers are going to be back on the street is clearly bad news for the city. I don't feel any safer with them out there."
Miles has a federal civil rights lawsuit pending against the officers and the city, and his attorney, J. Kerrington Lewis, has said Miles passed a polygraph test about his version of the events and looks forward to the jury hearing the case.
"That's really what we're interested in. People, objective people, hearing all the evidence in a courtroom with a federal judge in charge and they can make a decision," Lewis said.
Although federal authorities have closed their criminal case, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala is still reviewing the incident. Zappala spokesman Mike Manko said the prosecutor wants to discuss the case with Hickton's office and review reports by the city's Office of Municipal Investigations before commenting.