A white police officer in Philadelphia was fired this week after confessing that he shot himself in the shoulder last month and blamed the shooting on a black assailant.
According to Sgt. Robert Ralston’s original story, he stopped two men on the railroad tracks late on the night of April 5. When one of them pulled a gun and put it to his head, he knocked it away, but it went off and grazed him in the shoulder. The attacker, whom Ralston described as having cornrows and a tattoo under his left eye, then ran off.
The police immediately launched a massive manhunt, blanketing the predominantly African-American neighborhood with SWAT teams and K-9 units. “I think it’s despicable,” one resident complained. “The cops were stopping every man with dreadlocks. Every black man was harassed.”
“To us in Boston,” noted the Boston Globe’s James Alan Fox, “the incident is reminiscent of the Charles Stuart debacle when the police compromised the civil rights of the entire Mission Hill community in searching for the black assailant whom Stuart, a white suburbanite, claimed had shot him and his pregnant wife as they drove home from birthing class at Brigham and WomenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Hospital. The aggressive and highly questionable manner in which the cops rousted countless numbers of residents of the area set race relations in the city back years upon years.”
Although no motivation has been established for the 21-year veteran’s deception, Fox suggests that “Ralston was angry over having been transferred from a white community in South Philadelphia to the black neighborhood in West Philly.”
“I can’t believe he’d really do something like that,” Ralston’s next door neighbor Brawly Joseph, who is black, told CNN. “That’s really uncalled for. Ever since I’ve been living here, he’s really been like anti-social around this area.”
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ralston’s story quickly fell apart because “the facts of the case didn’t add up. There was powder residue on his shirt that matched his own service weapon, indicating he was shot at close range. His reaction to the shooting also drew suspicion, and police said he seemed eager to cast himself in the role of a hero.”
“It’s troubling in a lot of ways,” Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey stated in announcing Ralston’s confession. “It inflames racial tensions in our community, and that’s certainly something we don’t need.”
The Inquirer reports that Ralston “will face no criminal charges in the case, because he was offered immunity in exchange for his confession.” He may also be able to collect his police pension. His badge number will be retired permanently, however, and he will “have to pay the cost of the massive manhunt that was sparked by his tale on April 5. … [when] police spent hours combing the West Philadelphia neighborhood for possible suspects,”
This video is from CNN’s American Morning, broadcast May 13, 2010.