Surgery for man shot by Pittsburgh officer on hold amid legal limbo |

Surgery for man shot by Pittsburgh officer on hold amid legal limbo

A Shaler man shot and paralyzed by a Pittsburgh police officer delayed a potentially life-saving surgery, his lawyers say, because he wants to help prepare his legal defense if Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. refiles criminal charges against him in the assault of three officers.

Leon Ford, 21, risks infection, sickness or perhaps death if a bullet in his spine moves, lawyers Thomas Malone and Fred Rabner said in court documents filed late Monday.

The prosecution’s delay “in indicating whether or not they intend to proceed to retrial only further delays the defendant’s necessary medical procedures,” the filing said. Ford’s lawyers did not cite a doctor’s opinion. Nor did they state how long or to what extent surgery could incapacitate Ford.

“Because Mr. Ford has chosen to appeal his summary convictions in this matter, we cannot comment at this time,” said Zappala spokesman Mike Manko.

Zappala had told the Tribune-Review he had a year to decide.

Malone and Rabner asked Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman to set an earlier deadline.

If Ford needs surgery so badly, his lawyers should ask for a continuance, Duquesne University law professor Wes Oliver said.

“If I were the judge, I would want to know exactly what it is that he can’t do in preparation for the case and how that surgery is going to interfere,” Oliver said.

If surgery is necessary and not a legal tactic, Oliver said, the judge shouldn’t deny it.

A jury in September acquitted Ford of aggravated assault and deadlocked on five other counts related to the traffic stop in Highland Park.

Pittsburgh police Officer David Derbish shot Ford five times, paralyzing him from the waist down, on Nov. 11, 2012. The officer claimed self-defense.

Ford’s lawyers said the three white officers unnecessarily escalated the situation. Ford is black.

Common Pleas Judge Donald E. Machen, who retired this month, at the end of the two-week trial found Ford guilty of failing to yield at a stop sign and careless driving.

Ford is appealing those convictions, claiming the officers’ testimony and video from a police cruiser did not support Machen’s decision.

Ford’s lawyers contend the misdemeanor charges should be separate from those on appeal, because a jury ruled on them.

Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, a Hill District civil rights group, said Zappala could help rebuild trust between black Pittsburghers and police “by deciding to not refile charges against Leon Ford Jr.”

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].

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