Last November, after being pulled over at a routine traffic stop, a Pittsburgh man was shot four times by police officers. Now paralyzed, the man has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit this month in U.S. District Court against the City of Pittsburgh, police leaders, and three officers.
The lawsuit alleges assault, use of excessive force, unlawful search and seizure, and a due process violation by the police officers, while the acting police chief and former chief are said to have failed to properly train, supervise and reprimand the officers.
According to the complaint, Officer Andrew Miller and former officer Michael Kosko stopped Leon D. Ford, 20, for speeding but believed him to be a local gang member named Lamont Ford. A third officer, David Derbish, then arrived on the scene. In a police recording obtained from another proceeding, the officers can be heard discussing the man’s identity but finding that their dates of birth did not match.
Mr. Ford’s attorney, Monte Rabner, says his client “made no furtive movements, engaged in no suspicious behavior, and did not attempt to leave the scene in any way” despite being stopped for an unreasonably long time. He believes that Mr. Ford was subject to improper force because of his race.
A police affidavit filed in a criminal case against Mr. Ford claims that he refused to get out of the car when asked, then put the car in drive as one of the officers attempted to enter the vehicle and the other two tried to remove Ford. It says Mr. Ford tried to push Officer Derbish out of the moving car and at that point, Derbish shot Ford.
Mr. Ford was shot four times resulting in a shattered lower back vertebra and other injuries to his back, thigh, and chest, according to the complaint. He lost feeling below the waist and is not expected to regain the ability to walk.
Ford’s suit is being brought in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, permitting actions against state and local government actors for violating an individual’s civil rights. Section 1983 actions are very common in situations where police have used excessive force or have otherwise acted improperly in their official capacity.
Section 1983 lawsuits are an effective tool for getting compensation for injuries and other harm that results from unlawful police conduct, but are also a powerful mechanism for making sure cities and states respect the rights of their citizens.