PITTSBURGH (AP) — Defense attorneys for a young black man paralyzed after being shot by a white city police officer during a traffic stop contend his life is being endangered by a prosecutor's delay in deciding whether to retry him on some criminal counts.
Attorneys for Leon Ford, 21, of Shaler Township, made that argument in a motion filed Wednesday, seeking to force the hand of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.
Ford, who has a pending federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and the three white officers involved, has been a focus of recent demonstrations in the city flowing from the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Ford's supporters plan another rally focusing on his case Friday at Point State Park.
Zappala must decide whether to retry Ford on misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest, escape and three counts of reckless endangerment on which a jury was deadlocked in September. 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.
Attorneys Fred Rabner and Tom Malone said in the motion that Ford needs surgery relating to a bullet lodged near his spine, and is risking infection and possibly death by delaying the procedure so he can help the attorneys prepare for the retrial. They want a judge to order the district attorney to decide on a retrial sooner than the year Zappala has by law — dating back to the September verdict.
Ford was shot five times by Officer David Derbish who had crawled onto the passenger seat of Ford's running car and was trying to pull him out along with officers standing by the driver's side window on Nov. 11, 2012.
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 apparently believed Ford was a wanted gang member with a similar appearance and name, 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.
Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said prosecutors can't comment while Ford is appealing the citations relating to the incident. Rabner, one of the defense attorneys, declined to comment, citing a gag order imposed by the trial judge, who has since retired.
The case has been assigned to a new judge, who has yet to rule on the motion.