Pitt law professor to speak at Carnegie Library Lecture Hall on book about Jordan Miles case

This article was written by Paula Reed Ward, a reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

University of Pittsburgh law professor David A. Harris has studied criminal justice and policing for more than 30 years.

During that time, he has written and lectured about race and the relationship between law enforcement and the African-American community.

So, in 2010, when then-18-year-old Jordan Miles was stopped by plainclothes officers in Pittsburgh's Homewood community, Mr. Harris had a specific interest in what was happening.

Now, 10 years later, Mr. Harris has written a book on the subject.

He will speak about “A City Divided” at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Made Local series at the Carnegie Library Lecture Hall on Forbes Avenue in Oakland.

In January 2010, Mr. Miles was walking to his grandmother's house in Homewood when plainclothes Pittsburgh officers David Sisak, Richard Ewing and Michael Saldutte said they saw him and ordered him to stop.

The officers claimed they saw a bulge in Mr. Miles’ pocket they suspected was a gun.

Mr. Miles, however, said the men did not identify themselves as officers and instead demanded money, drugs and guns from him.

He tried to run, but they caught him. He claimed they beat him, although the officers said they only used enough force to get Mr. Miles handcuffed. He was charged, but the criminal counts against Mr. Miles were thrown out at the magistrate court level.

He then filed a federal civil rights case against the officers who stopped him, alleging false arrest and the use of excessive force.

A jury in 2014 found in Mr. Miles' favor on false arrest, but ruled against his other claim.

He ended up settling his federal lawsuit against the City of Pittsburgh for $125,000 in 2016.

Although by then, the story of what happened to Mr. Miles got significantly less attention, in the days, weeks and months after the stop, there were protests throughout the community demanding that charges be filed against the officers.

"It was obvious from the start it was dividing the community and exposing already existing divisions and widening those," Mr. Harris said.

The Miles case, Mr. Harris said, predicted the coming glut of incidents across the country, including in Ferguson, Missouri, that have led to a national movement calling for accountability among law enforcement officers.

One of the big differences in the local case, Mr. Harris said, is that Mr. Miles did not die in his confrontation with police.

"In many of these cases, that person has no voice. That person is gone and cannot speak for themselves."

In Mr. Harris' book, he said, "Jordan's voice comes through clearly."

Although none of the three officers agreed to be interviewed for “A City Divided,” Mr. Harris said their attorneys did agree, and the officers are quoted extensively from testimony they provided throughout the court proceedings and investigation.

"With just four people in the whole world knowing, we're never going to resolve perfectly what happened," Mr. Harris said.

He said he's content to let the reader decide.

Still, he continued, what the book does attempt to do is show how to make incidents like this occur less often.

"So much is based in fear — on both sides of the confrontation," he said.

There is fear among officers of the violence they face on the street, and fear within the African-American community of law enforcement.

The question, Mr. Harris said, is this: does society want to continue to view it like a war, or, instead, try to get police agencies and the community to form relationships?

For too long, Mr. Harris said, transparency and accountability were not a part of policing. But that is beginning to change.

"This stuff isn't going away. We know these are systemic and long-term problems that must be corrected,” he said. "We, the public, have to insist and demand the policing we want."