LEON FORD (Courier File Photo)
PITTSBURGH (AP) – A suburban man who was shot and left paralyzed by one of three city police officers has sued claiming they used excessive force and had racially profiled him during the traffic stop in question.
Attorneys for the city and its police union are defending the officers who encountered 20-year-old Leon Ford in November. Ford is awaiting trial on aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and other charges stemming from the incident.
According to Ford’s federal lawsuit, police initially believed he was a gang member with a similar name – Lamont Ford – and one officer claimed he thought a bulge in Ford’s pants might be a gun. That officer entered the car as it either lurched forward – if Ford’s version is accepted – or began driving away – as police claim. Either way, that officer shot Ford four times, paralyzing him from the waist down.
Ford’s attorney, Monte Rabner, who is White, said the incident was fueled by racial profiling.
“We need to fix the problem in this city. If I gave my license and registration, that would be enough,” Rabner said. “It’s just not OK to be treating people this way.”
The lawsuit alleges 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.”
But police have said in criminal court papers that Ford escalated the situation by refusing to get out of the car, and putting it in “drive” as two officers tried to pull him out the drivers’ side and Officer David Derbish entered the passenger side. Police contend Derbish shot Ford four times because Ford was allegedly trying to push the officer out of the car while it moved rapidly.
Rabner’s complaint doesn’t explain why the car moved, and the attorney said that will be explained as the case progresses. But, he said, “You’re a young, Black kid being yanked on by three officers. Do you get out of the car?”
Daniel Regan, the city’s attorney, disputed claims that Ford was wrongly stopped or injured because police failed to properly train its officers.
“Our preliminary review shows that Mr. Ford’s injuries were not the result of any city policies, customs or practices,” Regan said.
The Allegheny County district attorney’s office is still reviewing whether the shooting was justified. But police union attorney Bryan Campbell, who represents the officers, contends the shooting was justified.
The officers don’t believe they violated Ford’s rights and argue the plaintiff tried to take off with Derbish hanging out of the car.
“He was putting the officer in danger of serious bodily injury or death,” Campbell said.