Judge declines to dismiss charges against man shot by Pittsburgh police during traffic stop

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An Allegheny County judge this morning refused to throw out criminal charges against a man who was shot and paralyzed by police as he fled a traffic stop in 2012.

Instead Leon Ford will go to trial on May 5.

Defense attorneys filed a motion asking Common Pleas Judge Donald E. Machen to throw out charges of aggravated assault and resisting arrest and reckless endangerment against their client, arguing that Mr. Ford did not have any intent to harm the officers when he attempted to flee the Nov. 11, 2012, stop in Highland Park.

Mr. Ford, 20, was pulled over for speeding, but after he provided his driver's information to the officers, they questioned whether the man they'd stop was really Lamont Ford, whom they were familiar with from previous police encounters.

He complied with officers for nearly 20 minutes, but in a video of the encounter, about that time, officers ordered Mr. Ford out of his car, and he refused. An officer on the driver's side of the vehicle can then be seen tugging on Mr. Ford's arm, and another officer, David Derbish, can then be seen climbing inside.

The car then shifted into gear, and quickly pulled away from the curb. Three seconds later, five shots were fired, and Mr. Ford was ultimately paralyzed.

During argument this morning, defense attorney Fred Rabner said that the facts of the cast do not amount to malice, which is required for recklessness.

"Leon Ford was merely reacting to what we believe to be overzealous behavior by the officers," Mr. Rabner said. "When Mr. Ford is being yanked by one officer and pushed by the other, and him hitting the gas -- that wasn't a choice so much as a reaction."

Assistant district attorney Robert Schupansky said there was no evidence of that.

In making his decision, Judge Machen said that the standard required in making a decision on the motion to continue the charges is only "that it's more probable than not," a crime was committed, which is much lower than at trial, where the prosecution must prove its charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.

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