How to Survive a Police Shooting When You’re Black

 

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Leon Ford, center, in a wheelchair, is surrounded by friends and colleagues in Pittsburgh. Emmai Alaquiva

Pittsburgh activist Leon Ford explains in his new book, Untold, how to get lifted up, and how to lift a city up, even after being shot by its police.

Leon Ford @LeonFordSpeaks

When you get shot by a police officer 5 times–and docs say that you will ever walk but your son says keep pushing 💪🏾💪🏾💪🏾 Untold 11•11•17

CityLab spoke with Ford about his new book on improving policing, and being a change agent for his city:

How do you talk to your son about the police, particularly given what you’ve been through?I’m basically preparing a platform right now for him to decide what he wants to do with it later, because one thing that I don’t want to do is put too much emphasis on “the talk”—like, preparing my son to get pulled over by a police officer. My mom and my dad did that for me, and I did everything they told me to do. But I still ended up shot. It doesn’t work. “The talk” is not strength-based, it’s really just a fear talk. I’m not trying to put fear in my son’s heart. This is why I do the work that I do and this is why I’m not opposed to building relationships with police officers and people who are in positions of power. I’m working towards preparing the world for my son.

“The talk” should be more about: What does a prosperous community look like to you? When we continue to have these conversations around fear, then people will continue to run away from each other and step on each other. I don’t want to build a community where people are stepping on each other. That’s not a healthy community.

You did the photo shoot for your book cover at the site where police shot you. How difficult is it for you revisit that space?

It used to be a painful reminder, but now I just view my life differently. I’ve had that paradigm shift where, before, even thinking about the day that I was shot, that used to be super emotional. But now it’s like a celebration because I could’ve lost my life on that block. However, I survived and so I view my life like a vessel to make people aware, to educate, and to inspire. And that’s really empowering.

What’s your relationship with Pittsburgh police like today?I’m still going through my healing process, and there’s certain things that were done even after I was shot that I’m still dealing with psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Just the way that the city handled my case—I was fighting for six years and it’s like being in the belly of the beast of a system that was designed to destroy me. It made me feel like I wasn’t an American. The laws, the Constitution, and these documents that Americans praise—it felt like they didn’t work for me.

What kind of documents do you mean?

Like the Declaration of Independence, you know, those type of documents. These are good ideas, but [this ordeal] made me question who they were written for. What I went through, it made me feel like America was this house, and, I felt like the dog in the backyard that’s chained up all the time. You know? And kids come and pick on me and tease me and I get rained on—that’s how I felt, you know what I mean? Being a young man feeling like that, it’s like finally you get let out, they let you off the leash and you almost want to bite somebody. But gratefully, regardless of my circumstances, I realized that I was stronger than that, and just because someone else’s moral compass was pointing in the wrong direction, that didn’t mean that mine had to also.

Leon Ford (Emmai Alaquiva)

Is it hard pushing a message of compassion and forgiveness in such a suffocating climate for discussions around police and racism?

My message is to channel that anger into educating yourself. Educate yourself about the history of this country, and different policies at the local, state and federal levels. We’re behind the ball because these people are changing policies and stripping our rights away every single day. If we let our emotions get the best of us, before we know it we ain’t going to have any rights and they’ll continue to do whatever that they want to us. But the more we educate ourselves, the more we can use the system that has been working against us, to make it work for us.I encourage young people to run for office. I meet a lot of young people who are fed up with police officers and go to college and don’t know what they want to do in life. Well, if you don’t want to go to work delivering furniture or working at Panera Bread, or you just don’t like your job, then become a police officer. I think that’s where activism meets mentorship, especially in our communities. I had a few football coaches growing up who were police officers, but I never viewed them as police officers because they were mentors in the community.

What are your plans now for creating the kind of change you want to see in the city of Pittsburgh?

I’m getting involved with real estate development and leveraging my platform and resources to provide affordable housing for people here in Pittsburgh. One of the problems that I see, especially here in Pittsburgh is access. A lot of young African-American men and women don’t have access to resources to capital. There’s a lot of great things happening in Pittsburgh, but if you go to [the neighborhoods of] Larimer, or Homewood, or East liberty and Garfield, they don’t even know or understand what’s happening. There’s a disconnect there. So, I’m in a unique position right now to leverage my platform to give other people access so that they can understand things like: What does it really mean for Amazon to come to Pittsburgh?

I’m wondering as an entrepreneur, if Amazon is going to bring a lot of money to Pittsburgh, or, as an activist, what does that look like for the average household given what we’ve seen in Oakland, California and San Francisco? The average apartment rent has gone up to $2,500-$3,000 [in those cities] and that has the potential to happen in Pittsburgh. So, how are people going to afford to live within the city?Navigating the city from your vantage point now, what do you think Pittsburgh should prioritize for change?

Affordable housing policy. Also, accessibility. I love Pittsburgh, however Pittsburgh isn’t as accessible as I want it to be. There are still buildings within the city that aren’t really that handicap accessible.

Also police training. There’s really an accountability issue. I think police officers should have to live within the city. That’s a policy they recently changed that I think is just asinine. If you can drive an hour to go to work then you don’t have to be a part of any of the repercussions from people living in a neighborhood where you’re policing at. You don’t really have a heart for the people.

I believe that [the police] should have mental health evaluations. A lot of them come from the Army, and being a police officer, you’re sitting in a car for the majority of the day, not getting a lot of sleep because of the shifts that they put them. So police officers have very poor health, and there needs to be some changes within that structure. If police officers could be happier and healthier and more culturally competent that may help with some of these issues that we’re having as well.

Brentin Mock , Citylab.com, “How to Survive a Police Shooting When You’re Black”, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/05/pittsburgh-police-shooting-survivor-wants-to-change-the-game/559493/

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Video of alleged police brutality incident in Pittsburgh draws ire, raises questions

Posted By Rebecca Addison on Wed, Sep 20, 2017 at 4:29 PM

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On social networking site Facebook, videos of alleged police brutality often spread like wildfire. So last night, when Facebook user Joce Smith posted a video of a Pittsburgh police officer apparently slamming a man’s head repeatedly into the ground, it went viral.

The altercation on film, took place on Sept. 19 outside of PPG Paints Arena in Uptown following a Pink Floyd concert. In the video, a Pittsburgh police officer can be seen repeatedly punching Daniel Alderman, 47, of Ravenna, Ohio, in the head. Three other officers appear to be restraining and handcuffing another man also on the ground.

“My immediate reaction was to cringe,” says Brandi Fisher, director of the Alliance for Police Accountability, a police watchdog group currently looking into the incident. “It just looks like a brutal beating. This person wasn’t fighting back at the time, didn’t appear to be resisting.”

According to public safety spokesperson Sonya Toler, Alderman had attempted to interfere with the arrest of the other man, David Jones, 34, who was wanted on a warrant out of Cranberry Township on forgery charges. Police say Jones had previously fled from a Pittsburgh officer who was attempting to serve that warrant.

“[Alderman] was forcibly taken into custody and is in the Allegheny County Jail on charges of obstructing the administration of law, resisting arrests, and public drunkeness,” Toler said in a statement. “Earlier this morning, the Bureau began an internal review of the use of force.”

Toler says the Office of Municipal Investigations is also investigating. The officers involved in the incident were Andrew Jacobs, Brian Markus, Todd Modena, Robert Palivoda and Francis Rende.

This isn’t the first time Pittsburgh police have been accused of using excessive force. In 2010,  an altercation with three officers left Jordan Miles with bruises and broken bones. Another officer, David Derbish currently faces a civil rights lawsuit for allegedly using excessive force during a traffic stop that left Leon Ford paralyzed. In both cases, charges against the men were later dropped.

This also isn’t the first time officer Rende’s name has come up in relation to a filmed incident of police misconduct. In 2013, Rende was filmed accosting someone and brandishing a taser in the South Side during local St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

“This is very typical of the Pittsburgh police department,” says Kierran Young, a local political strategist, who obtained the video of the Sept. 19 incident from a friend related to Smith. “They assault people.”

Posted By Rebecca Addison on Wed, Sep 20, 2017 at 4:29 PM, “Video of alleged police brutality incident in Pittsburgh draws ire, raises questions”, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/Blogh/archives/2017/09/20/video-of-alleged-police-brutality-incident-in-pittsburgh-draws-ire-raises-questions

 

Settlements resulting from alleged police misconduct are costing Pittsburgh taxpayers millions. What can be done to lessen the burden?

“You can never make Leon Ford whole, but we sure as hell cannot tolerate officers acting in such a cavalier fashion.”

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In 2009, the City of Pittsburgh approved a $3.7 million settlement for musician Thomas Doswell. The settlement was the result of Doswell’s decades-long struggle to clear his name after he was falsely arrested and imprisoned in 1986.

Doswell spent 19 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of rape. He was ultimately freed following the results of a DNA test in 2005.

His $3.7 million settlement was the highest the city had seen in recent years, until now. This month, the city announced it had reached a $5.5 million settlement with Leon Ford, a man who was paralyzed after a Pittsburgh police officer shot him during a routine traffic stop in 2012.

Last year, Ford’s civil suit against the Pittsburgh police officers involved in the stop went to trial. The jury deadlocked on a claim of excessive force against David Derbish, the officer who shot Ford five times, paralyzing him. The other officers at the scene were cleared of wrongdoing by the jury, and the suit against Derbish was expected to go back to court this month before it was settled.

“After five years of arduous litigation, all parties are pleased to announce that we have reached an amicable resolution in the federal lawsuit Leon Ford brought following the November 11, 2012 shooting incident,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement. “The City has agreed to pay Mr. Ford and his attorneys $5.5 million dollars. This settlement is in the best interest of Mr. Ford, Officer Derbish and the City of Pittsburgh, and will provide all involved the closure needed to move forward in a positive direction.”

City Paper asked the city for records of all settlements resulting from civil-rights complaints over the past 10 years. According to those numbers, from 2008-2017, the city had paid out $5,781,178.26 in settlements. At $5.5 million, Ford’s settlement alone nearly equals the price tag for police settlements doled out over the prior decade.

In light of the financial challenges facing the city, Ford’s multimillion-dollar settlement might be hard to swallow. Since 2004, the city has been operating under Act 47, a recovery program designed to help distressed municipalities strengthen their finances. And many city sectors — including the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which has been in the news regularly for problems resulting from crumbling infrastructure — are in need of costly updates.

Many believe Ford’s settlement is necessary to repair the damage he has suffered. But should taxpayers carry the burden of alleged police misconduct? Whether it’s making police officers personally liable for their actions or requiring changes to police-department policies and procedures, advocates say the city must do more to hold police accountable, not taxpayers.

“You can’t help but look at the settlement of Leon Ford and be grateful that that young man is going to be taken care of,” says Beth Pittinger, director of the Citizen Police Review Board. “It’s outrageous that we’re paying $5.5 million to settle a case that resulted from a police officer’s conduct. You can never make Leon Ford whole, but we sure as hell cannot tolerate officers acting in such a cavalier fashion.”

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From 2008-2017, the city paid 43 settlements resulting from claims of police misconduct including excessive force, false arrest and imprisonment, and free-speech violations. The payment amounts ranged from $995 to $250,000, the highest amount of any settlement from the past decade, not counting Doswell’s.

“Mr. Ford is just one example,” says attorney Todd Hollis, who represented an individual who received a $40,000 settlement from the city in 2015. “Payments like these are to compensate victims for injuries they have sustained at the hands of police. I don’t know that you can put a price tag on it.

“If the community is upset about these large payouts, they should be upset about the police officers in the department. They should restructure the rules so they can get rid of bad police officers.”

Hollis’ client Paul Parrish was involved in a police chase in 2012. Hollis says Parrish eventually came to a stop and exited the vehicle with his hands up in a gesture of surrender when he was pistol-whipped by a Pittsburgh police officer.

“If you want to avoid these situations, perhaps they should be more cognizant of hiring better-trained police officers who work within the boundaries of the law,” Hollis says. “There is no excuse for a police officer to pistol-whip anyone. Particularly someone who has their hands up and has surrendered. There are some very good police officers who have never had to use their guns.”

(Two years after Parrish received the settlement, a 3-year-old girl shot and killed herself with a gun found in his home. Parrish was barred from owning a firearm due to a prior conviction. A few months later, he was arrested by Pittsburgh Police’s Narcotics and Vice Unit after a month-long drug investigation.)

Hollis says the police bureau must do more to discipline officers, including firing them. For example, Derbish, the officer who shot and paralyzed Ford, remains on the force.

Certainly after they spent that money, why in the world are those police officers still enforcing the law? Why are they still there?” Hollis says. “The solution to the problem should begin with the government no longer employing these police officers.”

Pittinger, of CPRB, says the bureau has seen improvements in holding officers accountable in recent years. She says former Chief Cameron McLay set the bureau on a path to correct these problems, and current Chief Scott Schubert is continuing that work.

“What we’re seeing is holding officers to standards and making sure they’re trained to meet those standards,” Pittinger says. “It’s different from where we were maybe 15 or even 10 years ago. Over the last several years they have improved the relationship with the community. You can’t always measure these things, but you can notice that there is a difference with the tension level. They’re making a concerted effort to professionalize the officers.”

In addition to these changes, CPRB has suggested requiring all officers to carry the equivalent of law-enforcement malpractice insurance. The recommendation was discussed with Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration when he first took office, but Pittinger says she was told it wasn’t an option for officers in Pennsylvania. The mayor’s office and the police bureau declined to comment for this story.

“Several years ago, we looked at whether you can hold someone responsible for the amount of civil damages a city absorbs because of their actions,” Pittinger says. “If there’s no finding, what do you do? How do you still hold that person responsible if no one has determined if they are responsible? That’s an incredibly gray area.”

But the city has tried to hold an officer personally responsible, at least partially, in recent years. In 2011, the city paid $40,000 to Kaleb Miller following a claim of excessive force against Pittsburgh police officer Paul Abel. In June 2008, Abel allegedly assaulted Miller and shot him in the hand while off duty. Abel’s homeowner’s insurance was supposed to pay out an additional $4,500 as part of the settlement for Miller, but the decision was ultimately overturned and the city ended up picking up the tab for the additional $4,500. Following the incident, Abel was fired, charged criminally, acquitted by a judge and then given his job back by an arbitrator.

“It’s time for some policies that make it clear that there’s going to be some personal responsibility when any employee acts beyond the scope of their duties or outside of policy, and there’s going to be some consequence for it,” says Pittinger. “Right now, that’s not the world we live in.”

Instances of alleged police misconduct aren’t the only cases where the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police has cost the city money over the past decade. In 2015, the city reached a $985,000 settlement with a group of African-American applicants to the police force. The federal class-action lawsuit against the city alleged that the police department had a “longstanding pattern and practice of racial discrimination against African-Americans in its hiring process for entry-level police officer positions.”

That case was handled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. The group has been involved in several civil-rights suits against the police bureau over the past 10 years, including four that resulted from the international G-20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009.

The G-20 cases were not included in the numbers the city sent CP because these settlements were paid by an insurance policy the city took out to cover the summit. According to the ACLU, these settlements totaled approximately $800,000.

The ACLU often works on free-speech cases where clients say the police department has infringed on their First Amendment rights. Over the past decade, the city settled five civil-rights claims involving free speech or religious freedom.

“We’ve had numerous complaints about police officers citing people for disorderly conduct for using profanity,” says Sara Rose, senior staff attorney with ACLU Pennsylvania. “We had a case where a guy was driving and had given another driver the middle finger, and a police officer saw him, pulled him over, and issued him a citation.”

In that case, the ACLU obtained a $50,000 settlement for its client, David Hackbart. But the group also had the city agree to change its training policies.

“Part of the settlement was the city would provide additional training to all officers on the constitutional rights of individuals using profane languages or gestures, that they would adapt a procedure whereby supervising officers review citations for summary offenses written by officers or personnel in the field on a regular basis,” says Rose.

As a result of this change, Rose says the ACLU has received significantly fewer complaints about police officers issuing citations for the use of profanity in Pittsburgh.

“When we settle a case, we can ask to incorporate anything, so that’s one of the reasons we bring these kinds of damages cases, with hope that we’ll be able to settle them with some kind of changes to training and policy,” Rose says.

The ACLU also worked on the case of Dennis Henderson, a Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher who was arrested after he made a comment to a police officer whom he says was speeding down a residential road. Henderson received a $52,500 settlement in 2015, and the city ended up changing its procedures for tracking pedestrian stops.

“At the time, if an officer stopped a pedestrian on the street and even frisked them, they weren’t even tracking those stops,” Rose says.

These kinds of policy changes tied to settlements are something Rose would like to see more of. Only in this way, she says, can the city ensure that such incidents don’t continue.

“We have limited resources, so we try to use our litigation to achieve broader goals,” says Rose. “Obviously, we want to represent the interests of the person whose case it is, but we don’t just want to get relief for them. We want to get broader relief for everybody so we don’t have to go back to court again in two years.”

, “Settlements resulting from alleged police misconduct are costing Pittsburgh taxpayers millions. What can be done to lessen the burden? “, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/settlements-resulting-from-alleged-police-misconduct-are-costing-pittsburgh-taxpayers-millions-what-can-be-done-to-lessen-the-burden/Content?oid=6405266

Pittsburgh civil-rights leaders urge city to settle with alleged police-brutality victim Leon Ford

Posted By Haley Frederick on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 at 11:53 AM

 Leon Ford arrives for his civil trial on Sept. 26. - CP PHOTO BY CHARLIE DEITCH

  • CP photo by Charlie Deitch
  • Leon Ford arrives for his civil trial on Sept. 26.

At 19 years old, Leon Ford was stopped by police for a traffic violation in Highland Park on Nov.11, 2012. The encounter escalated when — even after presenting officers Andrew Miller and Michael Kosko with his license and registration — police believed Ford was not who he claimed to be and was instead a man who was wanted by police with a similar name, Lamont Ford. The officers called for backup and Detective David Derbish arrived on the scene to determine Ford’s identity.

Confused and afraid, Ford remained seated in his car after the officers asked him to step out. Miller tried to forcibly remove Ford from the car. Derbish entered the passenger side of the car and claims he thought he saw a bulge indicating that Ford was carrying a weapon. Derbish then shot Ford, who was unarmed, five times in the chest at close range after the car started to move.

“With the presence of three police officers insisting that Ford was not who he really was, we could understand why such an encounter might cause a young 19-year-old to be fearful,” Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project, said at a press conference on Monday. “Particularly in the light of the many negative encounters between young black males and white police officers which have been televised so frequently over the recent years, both locally and nationally.”


Now 24 years old and paraplegic due to injuries he sustained from the gunshots, Ford appeared in court last month to testify in front of the jury in his civil lawsuit against Miller and Derbish. The jury cleared Miller — who was charged with assault and battery for attempting to pull Ford from the vehicle — but deadlocked on the charges of excessive force against Derbish for shooting Ford five times. Derbish is to be retried in 2018. The officers have not faced any criminal charges.

Stevens addressed the results of the trial at the Monday press conference. “It is time that we put this very unfortunate incident that occurred now five years ago behind us,” said Stevens. “We ask that there be 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.” Stevens indicated that B-PEP believes that a fair settlement would allow Ford and others affected by the incident to move on and avoid further drawing out the costly process by retrying Derbish next year.

Following the trial, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued a statement saying, “Nothing, including this suit, could ever erase the tragic circumstances Mr. Ford, the officers and their families have been through the past five years. Obviously, it has caused great concern among the greater Pittsburgh community as well.”

On his Facebook page, Ford was critical of the mayor’s statement and responded saying:

“Tragic circumstances for Mr. Ford, the officers, and their families??? Is the Mayor aware that both of these officers were promoted to detectives while a federal civil rights case was pending against them? Being rewarded for misconduct must be considered tragic circumstances. This is unacceptable, but I am not surprised.

“Time tends to show ones true character. He dares to put my trauma and theirs in the same sentence. I’m sure his team could’ve come up with something more thoughtful. However, this subtle disrespect shows the disregard for my pain, trauma, and life — similar to the action I survived!

“Nonetheless, I won’t waiver. My head will remain held high as I continue to battle for what I believe in. I will keep hope alive and continue onward.”

Both Stevens and Richard Stewart Jr., the president of the Pittsburgh NAACP who spent 30 years in law enforcement, agreed that they’ve seen significant progress in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in recent years and indicated that they will continue talking to law enforcement and officials about additional training for officers. “What they have in place right now — they’re going forward. Pittsburgh possibly might be the model for other cities across the United States with what the chief has in place now,” Stewart said.

“There has been significant improvements in community-police relations in Pittsburgh,” Stevens said. “It is important that we build on the progress we have seen in our city.”

 

Haley Frederick, Oct 17, 2017, “Pittsburgh civil-rights leaders urge city to settle with alleged police-brutality victim Leon Ford”, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/Blogh/archives/2017/10/17/pittsburgh-civil-rights-leaders-urge-city-to-settle-with-alleged-police-brutality-victim-leon-ford