US District Judge Gary L. Lancaster promised eight sitting jurors, “You will understand the rule of law that will govern your decision,” and began instructing them at a trial that will determine whether three City police officers were guilty of false arrest, excessive force or malicious prosecution in a 30-month old incident in the city’s Homewood Brushton neighborhood.
Later, attorneys both for plaintiff Jordan Miles and for each of the three defendant officers utilized their opening statements to ape and embellish the judge’s lesson, even as they began spinning conflicting tales about the night in question.
Judge Lancaster told the eight jurors that in order to determine the merits of the False Arrest charge, they will first have to decide whether the officers acted with “Reasonable Suspicion” in stopping and searching Mr. Miles, and then whether they had “Probable Cause” for making an arrest.
The judge also stressed that the jurors must weigh all the “objective evidence”, not “subjective” evidence based on what may have been in the three officers’ minds. They were instructed to “conjure an image of an ideal, objective police officer” in determining whether the defendants had Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause.
Finally, Judge Lancaster told the jury they are to weigh which side’s story is buttressed by the “Preponderance of evidence” — objective evidence is what matters over all else, he repeated — such that it “tips the scales.”
Mr. Miles’ attorney emphasized the unmarked, undercover, tinted-window nature of the “99 Car” officers used to patrol the neighborhood, their alleged abruptness in stopping in front of Mr. Miles in the street and pouring out of the vehicle, the size and ferocity of the officers, and their demands for drugs and money.
He presaged evidence of the plaintiff’s bruising and injuries, records of a telephone conversation taking place immediately before the interaction, and statements made during Miles criminal trial and during concurrent investigations as evidence.
Later, two attorneys for two of the three police defendants (court adjourned at 4:45) raised and emphasized the topic “credibility” on many occasions when speaking of the jury’s duty to identify weighty evidence.
These attorneys presaged evidence including details of the training which local and state police officers receive on the use of force, on the “continuum of control” and in responding to “levels of resistance.” They also recalled the high levels of crime and danger prevalent in the Homewood Brushton area, for which it is the officers’ mission to be “pro-active” in such areas.
On the subject of the Malicious Prosecution charge, one officer’s attorney told the jury that after a witness living at the home near which the encounter took place “changed her story,” the district magistrate “just threw the case [against Mr. Miles] out” of criminal court. After shrugging broadly and moving on to describe thrown elbows and donkey kicks at the incident in question, the implication by the attorney was clear that the jury ought to believe that the District Magistrate erred — and that Mr. Miles really ought to have been found guilty of resisting arrest as well as aggravated assault against the officers.