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Jurors Continue To Deliberate In Leon Ford Civil Rights Case

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh. Jurors are still deliberating in the case against two Pittsburgh police officers accused of using excessive force against then-21-year-old Leon Ford in a 2012 incident.

A jury did not reach a verdict in Leon Ford’s federal case against two Pittsburgh police officers Wednesday and will return for more deliberations Thursday.

Ford is suing officers David Derbish and Andrew Miller in federal civil court for a 2012 shooting that left him paralyzed. Derbish faces an allegation of excessive force, and Miller is accused of assault and battery.

Whether the officers are held liable will turn on if jurors think their fear was reasonable. Ford must prove that the officers acted unreasonably. According to University of Pittsburgh criminal law professor David Harris, jurors in Pittsburgh’s federal court jurisdiction tend to have a positive view of law enforcement.

“In any case like this, no matter what the facts are, the plaintiff – the person suing the police – is going to have an uphill climb,” Harris added. “It’s for that reason that a lot of cases like this aren’t even brought in the first place – they’re hard to win.”

Ford’s case started with a traffic stop in Highland Park on Nov. 11, 2012. The officers say they suspected Ford, who was 19 at the time, had a gun and ordered him to get out of his car for a pat-down. When Ford refused, Miller tried to pull him out of the vehicle. Then, Derbish jumped in the passenger side and shot Ford five times, paralyzing him. Derbish said he feared for his safety.

Harris noted that Derbish’s actions leading up to the shooting deviated from widely accepted policies against shooting into a moving vehicle. Police departments in most major cities have such policies.

“That’s kind of an issue that stands out about what happened here,” Harris said. “There’s no denying that Derbish did get into the car and the shooting took place inside the vehicle.”

Because the case is in civil court, Ford must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Derbish and Miller acted unreasonably. In other words, he must show that more than a fifty percent of the evidence indicates they’re at fault, unlike in criminal court where he’d have to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt.

An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at aherring@wesa.fm.
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