New settlement offer proposed in Ford case, but Fisher disagrees with Stevens’ comments


Tim Stevens, Chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project, has called for an “immediate assessment of whatever offer has been made to Leon Ford, and that a new offer be made that can indeed bring this matter to a positive conclusion.” 

The matter, of course, is last week’s deadlocked jury in Ford’s civil lawsuit against Pittsburgh Police Officer David Derbish, who is accused of using excessive force on Ford during a traffic stop on November 11, 2012. Derbish shot Ford five times after the car in which Ford was driving accelerated moments after it had come to a stop in Highland Park.

Ford is now paralyzed.

The jury cleared Pittsburgh Officer Andrew Miller of all civil rights violations.

Stevens, standing in solidarity with the likes of NAACP President Richard Stewart Jr. and Alliance for Police Accountability president Brandi Fisher, told television cameras Oct. 16 that B-PEP believes “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.”

But, Stevens said, “what we do know…is that according to experts in policing, the act of Officer David Derbish of jumping in Leon Ford’s car was totally inappropriate and did not reflect appropriate police policy and procedures.”

With a new civil trial expected for early 2018, Stevens said that “trials cost money to all affected parties.”

Officials at the Freedom Unlimited building in the Hill District provided the New Pittsburgh Courier with a copy of the letter Stevens sent to Mayor Bill Peduto, Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich and Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert. “The Black Political Empowerment Project recommends that the offer to Leon Ford be reviewed to see if there is a way to amend any proposed settlement to make it more likely to succeed in resolving this issue,” the letter stated. “We think it is in the interest of all within the City of Pittsburgh to get this case behind us.”

Stevens later commented in the letter that the local police, B-PEP and other community partners have all contributed to the improved community-police relations in Pittsburgh. “We need to continue to build on that work,” the letter, dated Oct. 12, read. “If this case goes in a certain ‘negative’ direction, it could throw us back in ongoing efforts. None of us want to see that happen.”

During the Oct. 16 press conference, Stevens said that “none of us may ever really know what fully happened on that November day. There may have been bad decisions on all sides.”

That statement did not sit well with Fisher—literally. Fisher, who had been standing near Stevens during the press conference, later sat down in a sign of disagreement.

“It’s always been APAs (Alliance for Police Accountability’s) position that the police in that situation had been completely wrong,” Fisher told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Oct. 17. “The only thing that Leon did wrong was drive while being Black. A traffic stop ended in a 19-year-old being paralyzed for the rest of his life. There’s no reason for that, whatsoever. The police use the same story all the time, that there’s a ‘bulge’ in someone’s pocket, but there’s nothing to ever substantiate it. They just make up things to justify their actions because they know they’re wrong.”

The New Pittsburgh Courier reached representatives for Leon Ford, but they elected to have no comment.

Later in the press conference, Stevens said there are a few incidents that African Americans can do to prevent another tragic ending during a police encounter. “When stopped, just turn your engine off. That way the police are sure you’re not going anywhere. Just that alone,” Stevens said.

Stevens continued: “Put your hands on the wheel or on the side of the car so they can see your hands and what you’re doing. At night, turn your dome light on so they can see that you’re being open and transparent. Do you have to do all this? No. Is it in your best interest? Yes. This is in no way an accusation to Leon, because he didn’t know. If he just did what I just said, he’d be out of that wheelchair today. So this is a statement going forward on what people need to do.”

“I think that statement somehow says that he (Ford) was at fault for the tragedy that occurred,” Fisher told the Courier in response to Stevens’ comments. “I think that’s the worst message we can send for any victim.”

Fisher continued: “Tim (Stevens) asked for my presence. I support Tim normally when he calls and asks for support, and he stated (the press conference) was to push the people involved in a suit to come to a conclusion, and I’ve been with this fight with Tim for the past seven years when it comes to police brutality so I know where he stands on the issue,” Fisher told the Courier exclusively. “It’s unfortunate that his comments reflect a toeing of the line as opposed to a strong stance for what was considered righteous in this situation.”