ABOVE PHOTO: Jordan, an 18-year-old high school student, left, sits with his mother Terez Miles in their home in Pittsburgh, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010.
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
By: Ramit Plushnick
PITTSBURGH— The FBI is looking into whether Pittsburgh police officers violated the civil rights of an 18-year-old violist who accused them of brutally beating him as he walked to his grandmother’s house after dark.
The FBI launched an initial probe even though it has not yet received a letter from Jordan Miles’ attorney formally requesting a criminal investigation into the Jan. 12 confrontation, spokesman Jeff Killeen said Tuesday.
Jordan Miles alleges three undercover officers beat him as he walked from his mother’s home to his grandmother’s nearby. Pictures taken by his mother show his swollen face covered with red, raw bruises and his right eye swollen shut. A bald spot mars his head where he says his dreadlocks were torn out.
The fact-finding mission is the first level of FBI investigations, Killeen said, and is designed to uncover evidence that civil rights have been violated. If so, the bureau could launch a full-fledged investigation.
Miles’ mother, Terez Miles, has said she believes the three white officers targeted her son because he was a young black man walking in a “rough” neighborhood at night. The confrontation occurred around 11 p.m.
Chuck Hanlon, vice president of the city police union, said officers Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing followed their training and the law.
“A lot of credit has been given to Mr. Miles because he’s an honor student … and that everybody in the media, the public and the politicians should just disregard the accounts of what the three officers wrote in their report,” Hanlon said. “And our contention is, is these three officers have been model officers and model citizens and honorable members of our society their whole life. That’s why they’re police officers.”
The officers wrote in their criminal complaint that they believed Miles was armed because they saw something bulky in the pocket of his jacket. They say it turned out to be a bottle of Mountain Dew, but Miles says he had nothing in his pocket.
The student’s attorney, Kerrington Lewis, wrote a letter, obtained by The Associated Press, to FBI agent Michael Rodriguez, the head of the Pittsburgh bureau, requesting “a criminal investigation against the police officers involved.” The letter is dated Monday, January 25th and Rodriguez has not yet received it, Killeen said.
The city of Pittsburgh is already investigating. The officers have been reassigned and put back in uniform. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has called the confrontation “troubling” and said “it seems as if there was a tremendous amount of force used.”
“He had no dope; he had no gun; he had nothing, because he’s not a criminal,” Lewis said. “The criminals are the people that beat him up. That’s the only crime that occurred here.”
The family has considered a lawsuit against the police but is currently focused on clearing Miles’ name, Lewis said.
Earlier last Tuesday, Police Chief Nate Harper called on the community to remain patient and promised the city’s investigation would be “thorough, and it will reveal the facts.”
Harper’s plea came a short time after nearly 100 of Miles’ classmates marched from their school, the Creative and Performing Arts High School, to City Hall. They, too, demanded an investigation.
Hanlon said the investigation should be taken out of the court of public opinion and would show the officers did nothing wrong. He was unaware of any previous discipline against the officers, who have been on the force since 2005 and have received awards.
The Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board will also conduct a full investigation, chairwoman Marsha Hinton said last Tuesday night at the board’s meeting. The board does not have the power to issue sanctions but can make recommendations.
About two dozen people turned out for the meeting, including many of Miles’ classmates.