Driver killed in Homewood police chase at center of Leon Ford's claim against police

JUSTICE FOR LEON — Leon Ford addresses the crowd in this May 3 photo at the Justice for Leon Rally in Homewood. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

PITTSBURGH (AP) – A driver killed in a crash Wednesday while fleeing officers had been wanted on weapons charges when police pulled over a different motorist with a similar name two years ago and paralyzed him in a shooting.
Pittsburgh police identified the crash victim as Lamont Ford Jr., 22, of Wilkinsburg. According to online court records, Ford was free on bond awaiting a February trial on gun and drug charges when he died.
Assistant Chief Scott Schubert said the car he was driving struck a utility pole and a building after police chased the vehicle after it nearly hit a police car about 2 a.m. Wednesday.
The officer made a U-turn but lost sight of Ford’s car shortly after the pursuit began. Police found the driver dead about 90 seconds later, Schubert said. A male passenger, whose name police didn’t immediately release, was taken to a hospital.
Lamont Ford was a suspected gang member whom police thought they were pulling over the night of Nov. 11, 2012. At that time, he was wanted on a weapons charge and for resisting arrest, court records show.
Instead, they had pulled over Leon Ford, 21, of Shaler Township, who, like Lamont Ford, is Black.
Leon Ford is suing the city over the traffic stop because he was shot five times by an officer when he allegedly tried to drive away from the traffic stop.
Leon Ford also has been a focus of recent demonstrations in the city that also protested the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri.
A jury hearing Leon Ford’s trial in September was deadlocked on misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest, escape and three counts of reckless endangerment. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala must decide whether to retry him.
The same jury acquitted Ford of the most serious charges he faced, aggravated assault, though the trial judge also convicted him of two traffic citations for running a stop sign and careless driving during the traffic stop.
Ford was shot by Officer David Derbish, who had crawled onto the passenger seat of Ford’s running car and was trying to pull him out with help from officers at the driver’s side window.
Police and prosecutors contend Ford wrongly resisted and tried to drive away as they sought to confirm his identity at a routine traffic stop. But Ford contends the stop was a pretext because the first officer who pulled him over kept insisting he was Lamont Ford.
Ford testified that he provided his driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance to the officers who, nevertheless, weren’t satisfied that he wasn’t the wanted gang suspect more than 15 minutes after he was stopped. Ford contends the officer who first pulled him over, Michael Kosko, cursed at him and, along with Officer Andrew Miller, began trying to pull him out of the car.
Ford contends he didn’t purposely drive away and that his running car was knocked into gear during the struggle. Derbish testified he shot Ford because he believed the defendant was trying to push him out of the moving car before it smashed into a utility pole.

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