Jury gets case in trial of Leon Ford

Leon Ford (Courier File Photo)

PITTSBURGH (AP) – A jury began deliberating Tuesday in the criminal trial of a Black man who was shot and paralyzed from the waist down by one of three White police officers during a scuffle in a traffic stop nearly two years ago.
Allegheny County prosecutors contend that Leon Ford, 21, of Shaler, endangered the officers by trying to drive away after he was pulled over for speeding.
Ford’s attorneys say he didn’t intend to harm anyone, let alone try to push an officer out of his moving car. That officer, David Derbish, shot Ford five times on Nov. 11, 2012.
“This case isn’t about reasonable doubt,” defense attorney Fred Rabner told the jury in closing arguments Tuesday. “This guy is completely innocent. This is about ‘What are we doing here?’ I’m not going to waste my time talking about reasonable doubt.”
Ford is charged with aggravated assault and other crimes. Jurors deliberated for about five hours Tuesday before adjourning. Deliberations will resume Wednesday.
Ford, testifying Monday in Allegheny County court from his wheelchair, said one officer told him repeatedly, “I hope you (expletive) die,” as Ford lay handcuffed and bleeding.
He has sued the city and the three officers, accusing them of violating his rights and using excessive force. That case is pending in federal court.
Police allege in the criminal case that Ford endangered the officers when he tried to drive away from the traffic stop.
Deputy District Attorney Robert Schupansky contends Ford panicked when the officers pulled him over and tried to determine Ford’s identity, thinking he may be a gang suspect who was the same age and had a similar description and name.
Derbish testified he saw a large bulge on Ford’s leg that he thought could be a gun. No weapon was found. The officers testified that Ford refused their commands to exit the vehicle, and they began trying to pull him out of the car. That’s when the car began accelerating, and Derbish said he jumped in to avoid being dragged.
“This case was not about what the officers did,” Schupansky told the jury Tuesday. “This case is about what Leon Ford did.”
Ford testified he was so preoccupied by two of the officers, who were trying to pull him out the driver’s-side door, that he didn’t realize Derbish had crawled in the passenger side and was kneeling on the seat.
He said he couldn’t explain how or why the car accelerated for several seconds until he was shot by Derbish, who was trying to get him to stop the car. Ford denied trying to push the officer out of the moving vehicle, as police claim.


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