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Retrial set in former black art student's civil rights beating case against Pittsburgh police

Opening statements were scheduled Tuesday in the retrial of three Pittsburgh police officers — one who has since quit the force — on civil rights claims that they wrongly arrested and beat a young black performing arts student in January 2010.

A federal jury ruled in August 2012 that the officers didn't maliciously prosecute Jordan Miles, but it deadlocked on whether the officers used excessive force or wrongfully arrested Miles, then an 18-year-old honors student.

A jury of four white men and four white women will now hear evidence in hopes of arriving at a verdict on the two deadlocked claims.

Miles was arrested after the officers — who were working an aggressive, plainclothes detail meant to target drug dealers and other street crime — claimed they thought they saw him prowling on a frigid night with a gun bulging in his coat pocket. Police contend the gun turned out to be a soda bottle, though Miles denies having even that. He said he wasn't prowling but was merely walking from his mother's house to his grandmother's, one street over, while talking to a girl on his cellphone.

Much has changed since the first trial.

Defendant Richard Ewing has left the Pittsburgh police to become an officer in McCandless, a suburb just north of the city. The other defendants, Michael Saldutte (pronounced sal-DOO'-tee) and David Sisak, are still on the force.

Miles has hired new attorneys, Joel Sansone of Pittsburgh and Robert Giroux, an associate of Detroit-based Geoffrey Fieger — known for his defense of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. The attorneys sued the Pennsylvania State Police on behalf of a 12-year-old black boy who was gunned down by troopers after a brief stolen-car chase in a case that settled for $12.5 million in 2008.

U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster, who presided at the first trial, has since died and been replaced by U.S. District Judge David Cercone.

Cercone has reversed a ruling Lancaster made before the first trial and will allow the police to present evidence that they found a pistol magazine and bullets — but no gun — at the scene of Miles' arrest a day or two later. Miles' attorneys have argued the evidence is prejudicial and a desperate attempt by police to deflect attention from their actions, noting that bullets would have been useless to Miles, since even the police acknowledge he was unarmed.

Miles' attorneys asked Cercone to reverse another ruling by Lancaster barring any evidence of past disciplinary complaints against the officers. Cercone refused in a pretrial ruling issued Friday, so the jury won't hear any such evidence.

The officers have repeatedly denied wrongdoing. They acknowledge Miles was punched and kicked but only because he allegedly fought with them.

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