Adam Brandolph, Trib Live, August 31, 2014
A case that sparked racially charged protests and petitions demanding that authorities drop charges against a Shaler man accused of fleeing police will go to trial on Tuesday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
Defendant Leon D. Ford, 21, who is black, was left paralyzed from the waist down when a white Pittsburgh police officer shot him four times during a November 2012 traffic stop. Officer David Derbish said he fired in self-defense when Ford struck him several times and tried to push him out of a moving car.
If convicted, Ford faces as much as 3½ to seven years in prison.
Free on bond since his arrest, he sued the city, police officers and former and current police chiefs in federal court, alleging they violated his civil rights. No trial date is set.
Pretrial publicity in the criminal case led Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning to issue a temporary gag order prohibiting attorneys from speaking about it publicly. The online petition from Ford’s parents, signed by more than 23,000 people as of Friday, asks the district attorney’s office to withdraw the “bogus” charges and hold the officers accountable.
Community leaders held several rallies to support Ford. On Aug. 19, 75 to 100 people–many wearing T-shirts proclaiming “Justice 4 Leon”–blocked a portion of North Highland Avenue in Highland Park to bring light to the case. Police arrested three people.
Pittsburgh police Officers Andrew Miller and Michael Kosko said they pulled Ford over at Stanton Avenue and Farragut Street in Highland Park for running a stop sign. The officers took Ford’s license and registration but suspected that he was someone else, so they radioed for Derbish.
Ford sat in his car for nearly 20 minutes before Derbish arrived. When Derbish looked inside Ford’s car, he said, he saw a bulge on Ford’s leg that he thought was a gun.
Police said Ford ignored an order to get out of the car, so they tried to remove him with force. They said Ford then began to drive off, and Derbish jumped into the passenger side to avoid being dragged.
Police found no weapon on Ford or inside the vehicle. An internal Pittsburgh police report concluded the officers failed to follow procedure and recommended discipline and remedial training. It said the situation could have been avoided had Ford followed the officers’ instructions.