CP photo by Charlie Deitch
Leon Ford arrives for his civil trial on Sept. 26.
At 19 years old, Leon Ford
was stopped by police for a traffic violation in Highland Park on Nov.11, 2012. The encounter escalated when — even after presenting officers Andrew Miller and Michael Kosko with his license and registration — police believed Ford was not who he claimed to be and was instead a man who was wanted by police with a similar name, Lamont Ford. The officers called for backup and Detective David Derbish arrived on the scene to determine Ford’s identity.
Confused and afraid, Ford remained seated in his car after the officers asked him to step out. Miller tried to forcibly remove Ford from the car. Derbish entered the passenger side of the car and claims he thought he saw a bulge indicating that Ford was carrying a weapon. Derbish then shot Ford, who was unarmed, five times in the chest at close range after the car started to move.
“With the presence of three police officers insisting that Ford was not who he really was, we could understand why such an encounter might cause a young 19-year-old to be fearful,” Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project, said at a press conference on Monday. “Particularly in the light of the many negative encounters between young black males and white police officers which have been televised so frequently over the recent years, both locally and nationally.”
Now 24 years old and paraplegic due to injuries he sustained from the gunshots, Ford appeared in court last month to testify in front of the jury in his civil lawsuit against Miller and Derbish. The jury cleared Miller — who was charged with assault and battery for attempting to pull Ford from the vehicle — but deadlocked on the charges of excessive force against Derbish for shooting Ford five times. Derbish is to be retried in 2018. The officers have not faced any criminal charges.
Stevens addressed the results of the trial at the Monday press conference. “It is time that we put this very unfortunate incident that occurred now five years ago behind us,” said Stevens. “We ask that there be an immediate assessment of whatever offer has been made to Leon Ford, and that a new offer be made that can indeed bring this matter to a positive conclusion.” Stevens indicated that B-PEP believes that a fair settlement would allow Ford and others affected by the incident to move on and avoid further drawing out the costly process by retrying Derbish next year.
Following the trial, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued a statement saying, “Nothing, including this suit, could ever erase the tragic circumstances Mr. Ford, the officers and their families have been through the past five years. Obviously, it has caused great concern among the greater Pittsburgh community as well.”
On his Facebook page, Ford was critical of the mayor’s statement and responded saying:
“Tragic circumstances for Mr. Ford, the officers, and their families??? Is the Mayor aware that both of these officers were promoted to detectives while a federal civil rights case was pending against them? Being rewarded for misconduct must be considered tragic circumstances. This is unacceptable, but I am not surprised.
“Time tends to show ones true character. He dares to put my trauma and theirs in the same sentence. I'm sure his team could've come up with something more thoughtful. However, this subtle disrespect shows the disregard for my pain, trauma, and life — similar to the action I survived!
"Nonetheless, I won't waiver. My head will remain held high as I continue to battle for what I believe in. I will keep hope alive and continue onward.”
Both Stevens and Richard Stewart Jr., the president of the Pittsburgh NAACP who spent 30 years in law enforcement, agreed that they’ve seen significant progress in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in recent years and indicated that they will continue talking to law enforcement and officials about additional training for officers. “What they have in place right now — they’re going forward. Pittsburgh possibly might be the model for other cities across the United States with what the chief has in place now,” Stewart said.
“There has been significant improvements in community-police relations in Pittsburgh,” Stevens said. “It is important that we build on the progress we have seen in our city.”