A trial begins today for a Millvale man who was shot and paralyzed after Pittsburgh police said he tried to flee from a traffic stop nearly two years ago.
Leon D. Ford, 21, is charged with nine counts, including aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, resisting arrest and traffic counts. The case is expected to last at least through the rest of the week and will be heard by a jury of seven women and five men, plus four alternates.
On the night of Nov. 11, 2012, Zone 5 patrol officers pulled Mr. Ford over for speeding at Stanton Avenue and Farragut Street in Highland Park.
During the traffic stop, after Mr. Ford provided his driver’s license and insurance card, officers began to question if they had actually stopped a different man, Lamont Ford, who had a criminal history including gun charges.
The stop went on for several minutes, and included the officers’ calling other Zone 5 patrolmen to verify the driver’s identity.
A police car dashboard camera recorded the stop. Nearly 20 minutes into the traffic stop, officers asked Mr. Ford to step out of the car. When he apparently refused, one officer can be seen in the video trying to pull him from the driver’s seat, and then another officer can be seen opening the passenger door.
The car is then put into gear and quickly pulls away from the curb. Multiple shots can be heard. Mr. Ford was paralyzed.
Defense attorneys contend that their client did nothing wrong, and that the officers conducting the stop violated a number of policies.
Mr. Ford has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city, police department, acting Chief Regina McDonald and former Chief Nate Harper, as well as Officers David Derbish and Andrew Miller, and now-retired Officer Michael Kosko.
As part of the criminal case, Mr. Ford's defense attorneys have filed a number of motions seeking to dismiss the counts against him, including that he had no criminal intent, that the police failed to activate another dash cam and failed to wear their lapel microphones as Pittsburgh police policy required.
Interactions between defense attorneys Fred Rabner and Tom Malone and assistant district attorney Robert Schupansky have been contentious leading up to trial, and there have been repeated requests for sanctions from the court.
A gag order was imposed in the criminal case last month after a rally was held and attended by Mr. Ford in the days leading up to jury selection. It was one of several events that have been held by Mr. Ford’s supporters in the community, who have often attended hearings in the case, as well.
In July, Mr. Rabner accused Mr. Schupansky of misconduct for failing to turn over a 12-page report by the police department's Critical Incident Review Board, which he considers to be exculpatory.
Judge Donald E. Machen of Allegheny County Common Pleas Court ordered Mr. Schupansky to provide it, and Monte Rabner, who is Fred Rabner’s brother and is representing Mr. Ford in the federal lawsuit, attached it to a filing in that case, making its contents public.
According to the report, Officer Derbish acted improperly in reaching into Mr. Ford’s vehicle and reached a false conclusion that Mr. Ford had a gun based only on what he described as a “bulge” in his pants.
The report was also critical of Officers Kosko and Miller not using their audio recording devices, and for failing to conduct a “quick, effective and efficient” traffic stop. Disciplinary action was recommended for Officers Derbish and Kosko, and the report suggested remedial training for Officer Miller.
“We believe this situation could have been avoided had the officers followed training and protocol, and Mr. Leon Ford followed the lawful instructions of the officers,” the board wrote.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.