Paralyzed man, shot by Pittsburgh police, files civil rights lawsuit

A Shaler man who now uses a wheelchair following a November traffic stop in Larimer sued the city of Pittsburgh, its police leadership and three officers Wednesday, saying his rights were violated when he was shot.

Leon D. Ford, 20, accused officers David Derbish and Andrew Miller and former officer Michael Kosko of assault, excessive force, unlawful search and seizure and violation of due process in the incident. He claimed that acting police Chief Regina McDonald and former chief Nate Harper failed to train, supervise and discipline the officers.

His attorney, Monte Rabner, said that Mr. Ford was stopped, ordered out of the car and then subjected to force because he is black, adding that such a pattern is common in the city.

"We need to fix the problem in this city," said Mr. Rabner, who is white. "If I gave my license and registration [at a traffic stop], that would be enough. ... It's just not OK to be treating people this way."

According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, officers Kosko and Miller pulled over Mr. Ford for speeding and suspected that he was someone else. Officer Derbish then arrived, according to the lawsuit.

A recording of the officers' conversation, which has been presented as evidence in other proceedings, indicates that they thought he might be Lamont Ford, someone they viewed as a gang member.

"Same white T?" one of the officers is heard to say on the recording. "Same date of birth?"

"No, not the same date of birth," another said.

Mr. Rabner said the two Fords are not related.

Mr. Ford "made no furtive movements, engaged in no suspicious behavior, and did not attempt to leave the scene in any way, despite the officers conducting an excessively and unreasonably long traffic stop," Mr. Rabner wrote.

Officer Derbish, the complaint continued, "claimed that he thought he could see a bulge in the plaintiff's sweat pants, which he believed to be the barrel of a gun."

A police affidavit filed in the criminal case against Mr. Ford accused him of refusing to get out of the car, then putting the car in drive as two officers tried to pull him out and as Officer Derbish entered from the passenger's side. In the affidavit, police also accused Mr. Ford of trying to push Officer Derbish out of the car while it was moving rapidly. Police wrote that that's why Officer Derbish shot Mr. Ford.

Officer Derbish shot Mr. Ford four times, according to the complaint, shattering one lower back vertebra and damaging two others, and injuring his thigh and chest. He has no feeling below the waist and isn't expected to regain the ability to walk, according to Mr. Rabner.

Mr. Rabner said that while the complaint does not explain why the car lurched forward with Officer Derbish inside, he will present his client's account during litigation.

Mr. Ford faces charges stemming from the incident of aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and resisting arrest.

"No weapon, contraband, or indicia of the same was ever found" on Mr. Ford or in the vehicle, according to the lawsuit.

The city Law Department reviewed the incident, solicitor Dan Regan said. "His injuries were not a result of the city's policies, customs or practices," Mr. Regan said. "We're going to review the complaint and respond accordingly."

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s investigators are still reviewing the incident, according to spokesman Mike Manko.

Mr. Rabner predicted that the city will argue that Mr. Ford erred by refusing to leave the car. Mr. Rabner said his client had reason to panic, in light of highly publicized accusations of police abuse of black men.

"You're a young, black kid, being yanked on by three officers," the attorney said. "Do you get out of the car?"

Mr. Ford worked since 2011 at Bent Automotive, a Wilkinsburg body shop. Management hopes to bring him back at a desk job when he's ready, according to foreman Bobbie Reed.

"This kid is like a really good person," Mr. Reed said. "Most kids his age are like idiots. Even being in the situation he is, he's just an upbeat person."

The complaint noted that the officers continued to be assigned to the Zone 5 station after the incident. Officer Kosko has moved out of the area.

Mr. Ford seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

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Rich Lord:, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord First Published September 18, 2013 2:00 PM


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