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Report critical of Pittsburgh police during stop that left man paralyzed

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 2:21 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Protesters push Leon Ford while shouting 'Don't shoot!' as they march in Highland Park on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. Ford was shot by Pittsburgh police during a traffic stop Nov. 11, 2012, in Highland Park in a case that has inflamed racial tensions.

A Pittsburgh police report recommended discipline and remedial training for two officers who failed to follow protocol during a 2012 traffic stop and shooting in Highland Park that left a man paralyzed.

The Critical Incident Review Board's report concluded that the situation could have been avoided had Leon D. Ford followed instructions when the officers pulled him over about 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, 2012.

The report was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court by Ford's attorney, Monte Rabner, in his federal civil rights case against the city, former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper, acting Chief Regina McDonald and Officers Michael Kosko, David Derbish and Andrew Miller. Rabner said the report highlights that the officers violated Ford's constitutional rights “as they did not act reasonably in light of the circumstances.”

Ford was partially paralyzed when Derbish shot him four times.

The report, finalized in September, has not been entered as evidence in the criminal case against Ford, 21, of Shaler, who is charged with aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and several traffic offenses.

He is scheduled to stand trial on Sept. 2 before Judge Donald E. Machen.

The board — which at the time consisted of Assistant Chief George Trosky, Cmdr. RaShall Brackney and then-acting Cmdr. Kevin Kraus — recommended Kosko and Miller be disciplined for failing to activate their mobile video/audio recording devices. Derbish, the report said, should be disciplined for reaching into Ford's car and using deadly force against the driver of a moving vehicle.

They recommended educating police Lt. Reyne Kacsuta about “the timely submission of all relevant paperwork.”

Trosky, Brackney and Kraus declined comment. None of the officers involved in the stop or Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1 President Howard McQuillan immediately returned calls.

On the day of the shooting, police said, they spotted a silver Infiniti speeding on Larimer Avenue. The driver failed to stop completely at a stop sign at Meadow and St. Marie streets. They stopped the car at Stanton Avenue and Farragut Street.

While officers were confirming Ford's identity, Derbish said, he noticed a “large, unnatural bulge” on Ford's leg and thought he was armed with a gun.

The report says, “To date, nothing resembling the alleged bulge was recovered from Mr. Ford, the vehicle or the crime scene.”

Police say Ford ignored an order to get out of the car, so they tried to remove him. During the struggle, Derbish said Ford struck him several times and tried to push him out of the car before he opened fire.

Three people were arrested Tuesday night when between 75 and 100 protesters — many of them wearing T-shirts proclaiming “Justice 4 Leon” — blocked a portion of North Highland Avenue near the intersection with Stanton Avenue in Highland Park, city police said. The three failed to get onto the sidewalk when ordered by police.

“It's gratifying to see so many people out here being organized and peaceful,” said Ford, adding that he organized the protest through social media. “It's for all victims of police brutality. It's not about age. It's not about race or gender.”

Staff writer Michael Hasch contributed to this report. Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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