During an October hearing before Common Pleas Judge Donald Machen to dismiss the charges against Leon Ford, who was shot by Pittsburgh police during a 2012 traffic stop, attorney Fred Rabner argued that his client was reacting to a fluid, escalating situation when he tried to flee the officers.
Machen, who declined to dismiss the charges, replied, “As far as that goes, he escalated it.”
But according to a previously withheld internal police memo, only released under threat of sanctions, the opposite is true.
“In its conclusion, (the report) says the incident could have been entirely avoided,” said Rabner.
Rabner said the 2012 memo from the police bureau’s critical incident review board criticized officer David Derbish’s actions and said he violated multiple procedures. The review board is comprised of command staff and looks at incidents like the Ford arrest to see what lessons can be applied to improve future outcomes.
The memo was part of discovery evidence only released by county prosecutors after Machen threatened to dismiss the case. The memo could turn the case in Ford’s favor, Rabner said.
Ford, 21, was shot multiple times by police during a November 2012 traffic stop after officers from Pittsburgh’s Zone 5 station misidentified him as a Lamont Ford, with whom they’d had previous contact.
Dashboard video showed that after sitting for 20 minutes, officers asked Ford to get out of his car. He refused. It then showed one officer pulling on his arm while Derbish climbed in the passenger-side door. The car is seen pulling away, and three seconds later five shots are fired.
Saying he was satisfied at a July 1 hearing that everything had been turned over, Machen declined to sanction Assistant District Attorney Robert Shupansky for withholding evidence. Rabner said he was “disgusted” that he had to ask for sanctions to get a report that was written a year ago.
He said he would file another motion to have the charges dismissed in light of the new evidence. Also during the July 1 hearing, Derbish said that dashboard video of the incident from his vehicle that Rabner requested did not exist because he never turned on his emergency lights, which in turn, never activated the system.
As a result of the shooting Ford was left paralyzed. Police then charged him with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. He has since filed a federal lawsuit against Derbish, the city, former Chief Nate Harper, current Chief Regina McDonald and two other officers.
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