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Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) Statement on the Need to Find a Resolution to the Leon Ford Civil Rights Case

10:00- am – B-PEP Headquarters (Freedom Unlimited, Inc.)

On November 11, 2012 the life of Leon Ford, who at the time was nineteen (19) years old, was forever changed. Some police lives may have also been impacted, but Leon Ford was paralyzed for life! He now sits in a wheelchair, a paraplegic. Part of the irony and tragedy of this particular citizen-police encounter was that Leon Ford was mistakenly identified by the police. He was NOT who they thought he was. When his car was pulled over the police mistakenly thought he was a gang member, Lamont Ford. According to various media reports Mr. Ford did what citizens are supposed to do. Leon Ford produced his license, and both his registration and insurance papers which showed his name. With such information having been offered to the police one would assume that such an encounter would not end in a permanent sentence for life as a paraplegic.

None of us may ever really know what fully happened on that November day. There may have been bad decisions on all sides. We don’t know. With the presence of three police officers insisting that Mr. Ford was not who really was, we could understand why such an encounter might cause a young nineteen year old to be fearful of the encounter, particularly in light of the many negative encounters between young Black males and white police officers which have been televised so frequently over recent years, both locally and nationally. What we do know, however, is that according to experts in policing the act of Officer David Derbish of jumping into Leon Ford’s car was totally inappropriate and did not reflect appropriate

police policy and procedures. According to Mr. Ford at least
one of the officers uttered racial slurs to him, and the officers
tried to yank him out of the car, and accused him of having a
gun. Leon has admitted that he was ‘terrified’ and stated that “I
didn’t know what the officers were going to do to me.”

The question now however is: “Where do we go from here?” What we know is that Officer Andrew Miller was cleared of civil rights violations, that the jury in the recent trial was deadlocked in the excessive force case against Office David Derbish, and that U.S. Magistrate Judge Maureen Kelly is allowing a trial to take place in early 2018.

In the past two or three years in particular, in the opinion of the Black Political Empowerment Project, and other community partners, there has been significant improvements in community-police relations in Pittsburgh, particularly when compared to the many stories we see involving police encounters across the nation. It is important that we build on the progress we have seen in our city. It is important to note that during the past two (2) years, according to the Citizen Police Review Board, every Pittsburgh police officer has been trained in Procedural Justice 1 & 2, with a third series being scheduled for the future. This new training shows a demonstrative commitment on the part of the City’s Administration and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to laying a powerful foundation for a new day in community-relations in Pittsburgh.

With this perspective in mind it is the opinion of the Black Political Empowerment Project, and other partners represented today, that it is time to put this very unfortunate incident that occurred now five years ago, behind us. We urge all affected parties do what must be done to accomplish this goal. At this moment a trial is expected to be scheduled for early next year.
Trials cost money to all affected parties. We ask that there be an immediate assessment of whatever offer has been made to Leon Ford and that a new offered be made that can indeed bring this matter to a positive conclusion.