Jury finds Leon Ford not guilty of aggravated assault

PITTSBURGH — The jury found Leon Ford not guilty of aggravated assault Monday afternoon.
Channel 11's cameras captured Ford and his family smiling after the verdict was read.
"We're extremely thankful for the jury's thoughtful consideration, and we're very pleased with the decision they've come to," said Ford's defense attorney, Fred Rabner.
Channel 11's Alan Jennings reported the jury was deadlocked on five other charges.  Ford will be back at the courthouse in October to ask the judge to acquit him of the lesser charges.
Ford, 21, was charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and fleeing from police during a traffic stop Nov. 11, 2012, near the corner of Stanton Avenue and Farragut Street in Highland Park.
Police said Ford was shot during a struggle with officers when he tried to drive away. Ford's lawyers said police mistook him for a wanted gang member.
The judge issued a gag order, which forbids the defense and prosecution from talking about Monday's verdict at length.
One of the original 12 jurors was released last week and replaced, forcing deliberations to begin from scratch.  Deliberations started last Tuesday.
"There had to be emergency extraneous circumstances -- sick or perhaps there's a death of a loved one. It would have to be an emergency-type situation," said WPXI's legal analyst Phil Dilucente.
Allegheny County prosecutors said Ford panicked and tried to escape by driving away with an officer who had crawled into Ford's car to help two other officers drag Ford from the car. The officer inside shot Ford, who police say they had stopped for speeding.
But Ford's attorneys claim the car somehow took off on its own as the officers struggled with Ford, who they allege was stopped when police mistook him for a wanted gang member.
Rabner said during his closing argument that the prosecution put on a "charade of evidence," in trying to prove its case.
"This case isn't about reasonable doubt," Rabner said. "This guy is completely innocent. This is about 'What are we doing here? I'm not going to waste my time talking about reasonable doubt.'"
According to their testimony, officers Michael Kosko and Andrew Miller pulled Ford over about 9:30 p.m. because they said he was speeding and failed to stop at two stop signs.
Ford produced his license, insurance and the pink slip to his silver Infiniti, but the officers believed he could have been Lamont Ford, a known gang member with a warrant out for his arrest.
To clear up the confusion, Kosko and Miller called Officer David Derbish because Derbish had previous encounters with Lamont Ford.
Derbish said he saw "an unnatural bulge" in Ford's front pocket and signaled to Miller, believing the bulge could be a weapon. The officers said that when Ford failed to comply with orders to exit the vehicle, they tried to pull him out.
The car slipped into gear and accelerated, and Derbish said he jumped inside the passenger-side door to avoid being dragged. He fired five shots seconds after the car accelerated.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Schupansky asked the jury to disregard the allegations about what the officers did was wrong.
"This case was not about what the officers did," Schupansky said. "This case is about what Leon Ford did."
No weapon was found on Ford or in the car.
Schupansky, as he did during his cross-examination of Ford's testimony, spoke about the inconsistencies between Ford's testimony and the facts alleged in the federal civil rights lawsuit Ford filed in October.
The lawsuit claims the officers pulled Ford over because he was speeding, that he was unconscious after his car crashed into a stone porch and that Derbish punched Ford when he entered the vehicle.
Ford, however, testified that the officers didn't tell him why they pulled him over, that he heard the officers yelling expletives at him when the car crashed and that he didn't know Derbish was in the car.
"He remembers a lot about what the officers did that night and little about what he did," Schupansky said. "But the verdict slip says Leon Ford." 

The Associated Press and Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.