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East Liberty suspect wounded by police officer who climbed inside car may be paralyzed

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
JAMES KNOX | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Leon Ford's 2012 graduation photo

A man shot by a Pittsburgh police officer might be paralyzed from the waist down, his attorney said.

Leon Ford, 19, of East Liberty is in the intensive care unit of UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland, recovering from a gunshot wound in the chest. Ford has a vertebrae fracture, said Fred Rabner, his attorney.

“His condition has taken a turn,” Rabner said. “He's not well.”

The officer involved in the shooting, David Derbish, suffered a dislocated left thumb along with cuts and bruises to his leg and elbow. He has not been medically cleared to return to duty, Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said. No disciplinary action is pending against Derbish, Donaldson said.

“It has yet to be determined if all procedures were followed, but it is evident that this incident escalated because of the actor's failure to comply with the officers' orders to get out of the car,” Donaldson wrote in an email.

Police said officers spotted a silver Infiniti speeding on Larimer Avenue on Nov. 11 and followed it until they saw the driver fail to stop completely at a stop sign at Meadow and St. Marie streets. Officers stopped the Infiniti at Stanton Avenue and Farragut Street in Highland Park.

Ford gave the officers his driver's license and insurance information, but police believed that there was some discrepancy in his identification and that he could actually be a man named Lamont Ford, according to a criminal complaint. Derbish, who is familiar with Lamont Ford, arrived as backup. Derbish stood at the passenger side of the Infiniti and noticed a bulge on Ford's leg that he thought was the barrel of a gun, the complaint said.

Officer Andrew Miller stood at the driver's side while Officer Michael Kosko stood in front of the open door. Police said Ford refused to get out, and Miller tried to physically remove him from the car.

Derbish said Ford then moved his hand to his right side, and Derbish feared Ford was going for a gun, the complaint said. Derbish opened the passenger side door and, as Ford moved for the gear shift, reached into the car to try to put it into park. Derbish said he felt the car begin to move and pulled himself into the passenger side as Ford sped away, the complaint said.

Derbish said Ford struck him several times and tried to push him out of the car before Derbish fired multiple shots into Ford's torso. The vehicle crashed into a building.

Police policy instructs officers to always watch the hands of a driver and passengers, to never reach into a vehicle when the engine is running or turn their back to a vehicle.

Such policies “are designed to enhance officer safety. They are not meant to impede or restrict an officer in the performance of their duties,” Donaldson said.

Ford has a preliminary hearing scheduled in January.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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