Pittsburgh, PA – The city of Pittsburg has agreed to pay a $5.5 million settlement to a man who was shot and paralyzed during an altercation with Pittsburg Police Department (PPD) officers in 2012, Mayor Bill Peduto announced on Wednesday.
Leon Ford, 24, was shot by then-Officer David Derbish during a traffic stop, after Ford refused to exit the vehicle he was driving, and attempted to flee from the scene with the officer inside his vehicle, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
“We considered the risk, and the city decided that this was in the best interest of the city,” Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez Ridge said, according to The Tribune-Review.
The incident occurred on Nov. 11, 2012, when PPD officer Michael Kosko and his partner, then-Officer Andrew Miller, stopped Ford for speeding and driving through stop signs, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
The officers believed that Ford, who was 19 at the time, was a possible gang member named Lamont Ford, because the two men were similar in names and appearance.
They then contacted Detective Derbish, who had previous interactions with Lamont Ford, to see if the man on the traffic stop was the suspected gang member.
“It just seemed like he wanted me to be Lamont Ford,” Ford said of Officer Kosko.
As the situation intensified, the officers told Ford to exit his vehicle. He refused, and later claimed that he was afraid.
Detective Miller responded by grabbing onto Ford in an attempt to remove him from the vehicle, but Ford resisted.
Det. Derbish, who was standing outside the passenger side of Ford’s vehicle, saw Ford’s hand reaching towards a bulge in his pants, and the officer feared he was reaching for a weapon.
Det. Derbish said he grabbed Ford’s hand as Ford began to accelerate, and as the car gained speed, Ford reached his hand to Det. Derbish’s chest to shove him.
“I was trying to control the hand and hold the gearshift in one place,” he said.
Derbish then shot Ford five times in self-defense from inside the moving vehicle, which subsequently crashed into a set of nearby stairs.
The entire altercation occurred in mere seconds.
Ford later claimed that his vehicle was knocked into gear as officers tried to remove him, and denied having attempted to flee the scene, WTAE reported.
“The police pulled me over for no reason, mistook me for someone else and shot me,” Mr. Ford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Before they shot me, they cursed at me, threatened and tortured me as if I was less than human. They claimed they saw a gun on me that did not exist.”
Ford sued the city and multiple members of the PPD in federal court in 2013, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Most of his claims were dismissed, with the exception of accusations against Detectives Derbish and Miller.
In October, 2017, the jury rejected Ford’s assault and battery claims against Det. Miller, and was unable to reach a decision regarding Ford’s civil rights violation claim against Det. Derbish.
Ford’s attorneys vowed to retry Det. Derbish, and the matter was scheduled to go to trial for a second time during the week of Jan. 22, WTAE reported.
“This settlement is in the best interest of Mr. Ford, Officer Derbish and the City of Pittsburgh, and will provide all involved the closure needed to move forward in a positive direction,” Peduto said a joint statement with Ford following the settlement agreement, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
The city will pay Ford $2 million in 2018, $2 million in 2019, and $1.5 million in 2020.
In 2014, Ford was convicted of two traffic violations in relation to the 2012 traffic stop. The jury acquitted him of two counts of aggravated assault, and deadlocked on charges of reckless endangerment, resisting arrest, and escape, The Tribune-Review reported.
Prosecutors dropped the charges instead of retrying the case.