Attorneys battle in Pittsburgh police shooting case

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A report issued by the Pittsburgh police critical incident review board last year recommended that all of the officers involved in the shooting of a man allegedly trying to flee a traffic stop in 2012 receive remedial training, and that the officer who fired the shots receive disciplinary action reports.

That information was revealed Thursday in another in an ongoing series of filings in both state and federal courts involving Leon Ford.

Mr. Ford, 21, of Shaler, was paralyzed in the shooting and is scheduled to go to trial in state court Sept. 2 on criminal charges of aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, resisting arrest and related charges stemming from the Nov. 11, 2012, incident in Highland Park.

In the meantime, attorneys on both sides of the federal civil rights lawsuit Mr. Ford filed against the city and the three officers have filed motions in federal court seeking sanctions against each other.

Bryan Campbell, who represents officers David Derbish and Andrew Miller and retired officer Michael Kosko, asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly on Tuesday to issue a gag order in the case, alleging that Mr. Ford’s attorneys, Monte and Fred Rabner, have misused their client’‍s criminal court case to obtain documents related to their ongoing federal litigation.

One document referenced by Mr. Campbell is the internal police critical incident review board report, which the Rabners contend is critical of how the responding officers acted the night of the traffic stop.

Common Pleas Judge Donald E. Machen, who is presiding over Mr. Ford’s criminal case, earlier this month ordered the Allegheny County district attorney's office to turn over the 12-page report to the defense because it could be exculpatory.

But in the federal motion filed Tuesday, Mr. Campbell wrote that Mr. Ford’s attorneys are “circumventing the procedure of federal court by seeking discovery of matters related to the civil matter in criminal court.”

By doing so, the lawyer said, Mr. Ford’s lawyers have prohibited the city from filing the documents under a protective order to keep them confidential.

Further, Mr. Campbell alleges that Mr. Ford's attorneys sought out the press to comment on the case to prejudice the defendants and “create social pressure” related to the criminal charges.

In his response, though, Monte Rabner wrote that he has refused media requests to release the report, that it was Judge Machen who said it was relevant and that prosecutors never asked for a protective order for it.

In Thursday‘‍s filing, Mr. Rabner revealed additional details from the critical incident review board report, which he said support his contention that attorneys for the city and officers have been insincere in arguing that the lawsuit should be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

Particularly, he wrote, the attorneys have known since the report was finalized in September 2013 that the internal review showed the officers acted improperly.

Video footage recorded by a police car dash camera the night of the incident show officers ordering Mr. Ford out of the car about 20 minutes into the stop, but he refused. One officer then tugged on his arm from the driver's side window, and then Officer Derbish climbed into the front passenger seat. The car shifted into gear and quickly pulled away. Within three seconds, five shots can be heard.

”After a review of the six policies, the board recommended all of the officers receive remedial training in the areas of ‘‍contact and cover’‍ and felony stops,“ Mr. Rabner wrote. ”Most importantly, the board recognized numerous areas where the policies and trainings standards were violated and based on the violations, recommended Disciplinary Action Reports (DAR) for defendant Officer Derbish and remedial training for defendant Officers Kosko and Miller.

“In its recommendation, the board found that: ‘‍Officer Derbish was poised and had entered the vehicle prior to movement. It is also clear, both doors quickly closed as the vehicle moved away from the curb. Based on the video evidence it appears as if Officer Derbish’s right foot was not on the street as he had related to homicide detectives.’‍"

The board concluded, Mr. Rabner continued, that “the situation could have been avoided had the officers followed training and protocol.”

But Assistant District Attorney Robert Schupansky on Thursday wrote in a filing in the criminal case that the board report “discussed only violations regarding officers' wearing lapel microphones during the traffic stop and the policy regarding officers entering the defendant's vehicle after the defendant failed to comply with officer requests to exit the vehicle multiple times."

As for the board‘‍s conclusion, Mr. Schupansky said that Mr. Rabner has failed to provide it in its entirety. The end of that sentence, Mr. Schupansky said, should read that the situation could have been avoided if the officers followed procedure "and Mr. Leon Ford followed the lawful instructions of the officers."


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard. First Published July 24, 2014 8:00 PM

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