PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The trial for a man who was shot and paralyzed during a traffic stop with Pittsburgh Police began Tuesday morning.
During opening statements, the judge ruled he will allow the prosecution to use Leon Ford’s statement to police while he was in the hospital:
“Tell him I apologize. I was scared,” he said.
Police dash cam video captured the police stop in Highland Park in 2012.
Officers pulled over Leon Ford Junior of Shaler for speeding, but officers also believed he may have been someone else who had been arrested before on firearms charges.
Eventually, police ordered Ford out of the car. When he refused, police tried to pull him out. Instead, he pulled away and that led to gunfire.
Ford was paralyzed as a result.
Police say Ford hitting the gas put the officers in danger. He is facing aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, and resisting arrest charges.
The defense argued at a hearing in July that police procedure wasn’t followed, but the judge ruled that wasn’t enough to throw the case out.
Ford is also suing in federal court.
Testimony continued throughout the day. Ford’s supporters who came to the Allegheny County Courthouse rallied around him both outside and inside the building, but few could fit in the courtroom of Judge Donald Machen. Only about 25 seats are in place for spectators.
The prosecution argued that what happened to him in November of 2012 was Ford’s own fault for not complying with police commands and driving off during a traffic stop.
One officer who climbed into the car fired as Ford pulled away, dragging him say police.
“This is a story about choices and consequences,” said prosecutor Rob Schupansky. “It’s about what Leon Ford did. Not what the officers did. He made the choice to hit the gas. It led to tragic consequences brought about by his actions.”
But defense attorney Fred Rabner argued the opposite. He said officers should not have confused Ford with Lamont Ford who had an outstanding warrant, especially since Leon Ford handed them his license and registration documents.
“He had no idea as he prepared to visit his grandmother that he’d be chased down, pursued and stopped by up disciplined overzealous officers who mistook him for a known gangbanger. They accused him of being someone who he is not,” argued defense attorney Fred Rabner.
“As he left his home he couldn’t have known those would be the last steps he would take. Five shots fired at close range pierced his spinal cord, paralyzing him for life.”
Rabner also argued that police were abusive both before and after the shooting.
“The situation deteriorated when he was told, ‘You get your black (expletive) out of the car,'” said Rabner.
Then once it was determined Ford wasn’t who they thought he was and wasn’t armed, police saw the gravity of his injuries.
“They said, ‘You’d better die,’ because they don’t want to be in this courtroom,” claimed Rabner.
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