Leon Ford Jr. was unarmed when pulled over by Pittsburgh police on the night of November 11, 2012. The Root explains what followed:
Almost everything that happened next — whether Ford should have been stopped, what happened when Pittsburgh police officers approached Ford’s car, what Ford and the three officers said and did, even the order of events — is disputed.”
But this much is not: Ford, 19 at the time of the incident and unarmed, was shot multiple times and left paralyzed below his waist and now faces up to 20 years in prison. He has been charged with aggravated assault along with two counts of reckless endangerment and traffic violations, including running a stop sign and reckless driving.
This reminds me of the St. Louis shooting of 30-year-old Lamont Earl Dukes, who was unarmed and trying to surrender when he was shot twice by police. The next day, police visited Dukes in the hospital, where they charged him with “resisting arrest.”
Fortunately, Ford’s case is receiving national attention and he has lawyered up:
On Wednesday, lawyers for Ford will ask a judge to throw out the state’s case because of what they say is ample evidence that the officers violated department policies during the stop — leaving Ford in reasonable fear for his life and creating the conditions for the crimes of which Ford now stands accused — and that the officers lied about the details of the roadside incident in written statements made under oath. In addition, none of the three officers involved were wearing fully functional required audio recorders at the time that Ford was stopped, questioned and ultimately shot.
Police say they saw a gun in Ford’s car and demanded he exit the vehicle, but he refused and tried to drive away, dragging an officer who had jumped inside the vehicle with him. Fearing for his life, the officer shot Ford five times, paralyzing him below the waist. Even if the police version of events is true, jumping into Ford’s car was a possible violation of police policy and may have been responsible for shifting the car’s gear into drive. Furthermore, no weapon was ever found.
As Ford’s parents put it, “While we are not sure how the car shifted into gear once the officer jumped inside the vehicle, we are sure that our son was in mortal fear for his life as police harassed, threatened and hurled racial slurs towards him.” In other words, if Ford did in fact try to flee, can anyone really blame him?
Ford’s parents recently started a petition at Change.org asking that the charges against their son be dropped. The family has also filed a civil rights lawsuit against city of Pittsburgh, its police leadership and the three officers who initiated the traffic stop. After all, if anyone’s going to face criminal charges, shouldn’t it be the people who paralyzed an unarmed teen?