Leon Ford alleges rude words, ‘hateful glare’ from Pittsburgh officer; city investigating
Pittsburgh police have begun an internal investigation into an alleged encounter between police shooting survivor Leon Ford Jr. and an officer working Saturday on the North Shore, officials said Monday.
Ford, 24, detailed the alleged incident in a Facebook post made shortly before 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Today on the North Shore I was rolling in my chair and crossed paths with this officer,” Ford wrote. “I smiled at the officer and said hey what’s up. In return this officer gave me the most hateful glare. I stopped immediately and asked what his problem was, no response. I asked for his name and he told me that he didn’t have to speak to me and that I was only looking for another check (sic).”
Mayoral Spokesperson Tim McNulty confirmed the officer’s identity as Paul Jenkins. Jenkins is the brother of Morgan Jenkins, a Pittsburgh police officer who was shot and paralyzed in 2013.
Cmdr. Eric Holmes, police chief of staff, said police officials were made aware of the incident with Ford and immediately alerted the Office of Municipal Investigations, which he said is standard protocol. He said the officer was working an approved secondary employment detail during the Steelers game.
Ford was shot multiple times during a traffic stop in November 2012. He remains paralyzed and uses a wheelchair. Pittsburgh settled a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Ford for $5.5 million in January.
“As someone who was repeatedly violated by the city of Pittsburgh for over six years, I continue to be disrespected,” he wrote.
Holmes said Jenkins appears to have been wearing a body camera, though it is not clear whether it was activated - or needed to be activated during the encounter.
“The investigation will play out,” Holmes said. “What was said or not said will play out. Certainly as a member of the bureau of police, all of us - from the chief to the newest officer - we have ... a standard to uphold.”
Police policy dictates officers must give their name and badge number to any civilian who asks for it. Holmes also said officers are required to wear their name badge as part of their uniform, which Jenkins did not appear to have on during the incident.
“Every time they put the uniform on, they’re required to abide by our policies,” he said, noting the officer involved is a veteran officer who remains on duty. He said that investigators with OMI will speak with Ford as part of the investigation.
Holmes said if Jenkins made the comments he’s alleged to have made, the remarks were improper.
“Incidents happen,” he said. “This underscores that we’re still a work in progress, and we’ll continue to work to make ourselves better. We also hold ourselves accountable.”
Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project, called for an investigation into the incident. He called the alleged mean-spirited comments from the officer “a slap in the face to all of us who have been doing our best to improve community-police relations in this city.”
Both Stevens and Ford noted the incident happened at a time when tensions are high between area police and the communities they serve in the wake of the June police shooting of Antwon Rose II.
“The gas is on in our city and it’ll only take one small incident to ignite a flame that we will never recover from,” Ford wrote.
Holmes said he understands the current regional tension.
“You often hear leadership say we’re one incident away from something occurring, so we recognize that, and we understand that,” he said. “We also recognize that as the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, we have to work with, for, by, and through the community in everything we do.”