PITTSBURGH – A jury cleared one Pittsburgh police officer of assault allegations Tuesday but deadlocked on whether another officer violated a man's civil rights when he shot him as the man's car sped away from a traffic stop with the officer still inside.
Jurors returned the partial verdict a couple hours after returning from a three-day weekend. The 10-member jury of two men and eight women had told the judge Friday they were deadlocked in the lawsuit filed by 24-year-old Leon Ford, who is black, against white officers David Derbish and Andrew Miller.
The judge instructed the jury, which had no black members, to continue deliberating in the civil rights trial held amid concerns about black men nationwide being shot by officers in recent years.
The split verdict means Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Maureen must schedule another trial focused solely on Ford's claim that Derbish used excessive force. The jury cleared Miller of Ford's assault and battery claims.
"I am confident that the truth will come out again the next time a jury hears my case," Ford said in a statement issued by his attorneys after the verdict. "The police pulled me over for no reason, mistook me for someone else and shot me. Before they shot me, they cursed at me, threatened and tortured me as if I was less than human. They claimed they saw a gun on me that did not exist."
Fred Rabner, one of Ford's attorneys, said Ford will be "better off" at the retrial the judge hopes to schedule for early next year because, "the focus will be laser sharp on Derbish."
Derbish and Miller walked briskly from the courtroom after the verdict, and their defense team declined to comment.
The November 2012 shooting left Ford a paraplegic who must use a catheter six times a day and clear his bowels manually, Rabner had told the jury. For also was left without any sexual function, he said.
Rabner had argued Ford was the victim of three "rogue cops" — Derbish, Miller, and Miller's partner, Michael Kosko, who initiated the traffic stop. The judge dismissed claims against Kosko before trial because he wasn't involved in the struggle that led Derbish to shoot Ford.
The officers' attorney, Paul Krepps, defended their actions, saying they were forced to make quick decisions during the 15-minute traffic stop and that Derbish shot Ford during a frantic seven-second interval when Ford's car drove forward as Miller stood outside the driver's side door and Derbish knelt on the front passenger seat, trying to tug a reluctant Ford from the car.
Ford testified he was frightened of the officers because they insisted he was Lamont Ford Jr., a wanted gang member of about the same age and build, whose appearance the officers claimed was "strikingly similar" to Leon Ford's.
Rabner ridiculed that notion, noting Lamont and Leon had different skin tones, head and ear shapes. He suggested Ford was treated differently — even though he was polite and immediately produced his driver's license, registration and insurance card — because he was stopped in a predominantly black neighborhood with a high crime rate.
Derbish wasn't involved in the initial stop, but was called to the scene by Miller, who knew Derbish had past dealings with Lamont Ford.
When Derbish arrived, he couldn't be sure if the officers had stopped Leon or Lamont Ford, and became alarmed when he claimed to see a non-descript bulge in Ford's sweat pants. The officers contends that's what prompted them to try to pull Ford from the car so he could be frisked; Rabner has argued it was an after-the-fact ruse cooked up by the officers to excuse their mistaken identity problem and other policy violations — including when Derbish got into Ford's car to pull him out.
As Miller tugged on Ford from the driver's side, Derbish shot Ford when the car suddenly sped forward. Rabner contends the car was inadvertently knocked into gear during the struggle, though Krepps and the officers contend Ford tried to escape.