Judges warns DA about evidence in paralyzed man's case

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A Common Pleas judge repeatedly threatened to sanction the prosecution during a motion hearing Wednesday in the case against a man left paralyzed after a Pittsburgh police officer shot him while attempting to flee from a traffic stop in 2012.

Leon Ford, 20, is charged with aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, resisting arrest and traffic offenses stemming from the traffic stop Nov. 11, 2012, in Highland Park.

Officers pulled Mr. Ford over for speeding, but after he gave them his driver’s license and registration, they wondered if they really had stopped Lamont Ford, whom they knew from previous police interactions.

A video of the incident that a patrol car captured shows the nearly 20-minute stop and officers debating the driver’s identity. When they ordered Mr. Ford out of the car, he refused, and the video shows an officer tugging on his arm from the driver’s side of the car, then another officer, David Derbish, can be seen climbing in the front, passenger side.

Mr. Ford’s car then shifted into gear and quickly pulled away from the curb. Within three seconds, five shots can be heard.

Mr. Ford, who had no previous criminal history and had no weapons or contraband in the car, was paralyzed.

His defense attorney, Fred Rabner, earlier this month filed a motion seeking sanctions against the commonwealth, represented by assistant district attorney Robert Schupansky, for discovery violations.

Judge Donald E. Machen conducted a hearing on the motion Wednesday, where Mr. Rabner outlined the items he said the prosecution still has not provided to him.

Among the items Mr. Rabner said are missing are a traffic stop report from that night, Officer Derbish’s toxicology screen, the police policy for how officer lapel audio recorders are to be used and police policies related to getting into a vehicle during a traffic stop.

Mr. Schupansky told Judge Machen that investigators have assured him no traffic stop report exists and that he had the policies to turn over.

The judge sternly told the prosecutor that if a report is found, Mr. Schupansky will not be permitted to use it or any information garnered from it.

Later, Mr. Schupansky said that Mr. Rabner had already received at least one of the police policies as part of an ongoing civil lawsuit he filed against the city.

Judge Machen was not swayed. “It’s supposed to be a level playing field,” he said.

Mr. Rabner also asked for an evidentiary hearing to find out why Officer Derbish’‍s dashboard camera wasn’t working that night.

Mr. Schupansky said the camera is only activated when the emergency patrol lights are turned on, and because Officer Derbish only responded as backup, he did not use his.

Judge Machen will conduct a hearing on that issue next week.

Mr. Ford is slated to go to trial in early September.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.

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