The defense attorney for a man who was shot and paralyzed following a traffic stop two years ago said an internal police report he received Tuesday is highly critical of officers’ handling of the incident.
“[In] the conclusion, it says the incident could have been entirely avoided,” said attorney Fred Rabner, who represents Leon Ford.
Mr. Rabner was referring to a report from the Pittsburgh police critical incident review board. The board, made up of members of the command staff, reviews incidents to determine what lessons might be learned from them.
In this case, Mr. Ford, 21, is charged with aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, resisting arrest and related charges stemming from a traffic stop the night of Nov. 11, 2012, in Highland Park.
The stop went on for some 20 minutes, while officers debated if they actually had pulled over another man named Lamont Ford, whom they knew from previous interactions.
According to a police car dashboard camera that recorded the incident, when officers finally ordered Leon Ford out of the car, he refused. One officer can be seen tugging on his arm from the driver's side window, and then another officer, David Derbish, can be seen climbing into the front passenger seat.
The car then shifted into gear and quickly pulled away. Within three seconds, five shots can be heard. Mr. Ford was shot multiple times and paralyzed.
The defense contends that Mr. Ford was complying with officers’ commands up until the point that Officer Derbish got into the passenger seat of his car.
“You can’t create an environment and then judge the defendant on his reaction,” Mr. Rabner said. “You can’t criticize the guy’s actions when you act totally irrationally.”
The attorney said the review board report was critical of Officer Derbish’s actions in getting into the car and said he violated numerous police policies.
Mr. Rabner plans to file a motion asking the court to dismiss the charges against his client.
He also criticized the prosecution for only providing the report now, when it was written in July 2013 and finalized in September.
“I’m quite disgusted it had to take a motion for sanctions for the prosecution to turn over a report,” Mr. Rabner said.
The defense filed a motion for sanctions against the prosecution alleging it had not received everything it should have in discovery. At a hearing before Common Pleas Judge Donald E. Machen Tuesday, assistant district attorney Robert Schupansky said everything has now been provided. Judge Machen said he saw no reason to impose any sanctions.
Among the discovery questions raised by Mr. Rabner, he wants to know if a dashboard video exists from Officer Derbish’s car that night. However, at Tuesday’s hearing Officer Derbish, who did not initiate the traffic stop, said that he never activated his emergency lights that night to turn on his camera.
The Allegheny County District Attorney’s office had no reaction to Mr. Rabner’s comments.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.