This week the City of Philadelphia filed a civil suit against a former Philadelphia police officer who shot himself and then blamed his injuries on an unidentified African-American man.
On Tuesday, the city’s law department went after former police officer Sgt. Robert Ralston, seeking more than $11,000 in unspecified damages that include attorney’s fees and court costs.
The city is looking to recover the salary that was paid to Ralston from the date that the shooting occurred up to when he confessed that he actually shot himself, and other financial damages.
“The city filed the lawsuit on Tuesday, basically seeking recovery of the money that was paid in wages and medical expenses,” said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. Ramsey said the city is asking for more than $4,000 in wages paid to Ralston from the shooting. The city is also after $6,000 to recover the medical expenses paid as a result of the shooting.
“I was prepared to dismiss him from the force behind this, but he chose instead to retire and you can’t stop someone from doing that,” Ramsey said. “I don’t know how the city plans to recover the money if they win the lawsuit. It’s not right that the taxpayers should foot the bill for a fraudulent claim, which is what this was. It’s going to be interesting to see how all of this plays out. I will say this; I think this is an appropriate action against him.”
Ralston left the Philadelphia Police Department after an investigation determined that the incident on April 5, 2010, in which he claimed he was wounded by gunfire during an altercation with two Black men, turned out to be a lie.
During the investigation that followed the shooting, Ralston confessed that the gunshot was self-inflicted — an admission that raised concerns among a host of community leaders and residents in the African-American community.
No criminal charges were ever filed against Ralston.
During a meeting with Tribune editors and reporters following the investigation, District Attorney Seth Williams said that although he would have liked to arrest and prosecute Ralston there was no evidence with which he could charge him.
Williams said Ralston’s statement was racially offensive and that there was no offer of immunity from prosecution. He also said there was a proffer made to Ralston in order to elicit his confession. According to Williams, the agreement was that Ralston’s confession would not be used against him if or when the DA’s office ever decided to prosecute.
Williams emphasized that the case remains open.
“He claimed that he shot at the suspect with his service weapon. He chose a time when there was no one around and on the train tracks near Overbrook High School,” Williams said. “There’s no independent witness to corroborate what happened. It’s been said there was ballistics evidence — well, yes. We tested his uniform shirt and there was gunpowder residue on it. But that’s also consistent with him firing on people who were fleeing the scene. It wouldn’t take a great attorney to point that out during a trial. Without his statement and corroborating witnesses all we have are a shirt, his graze wound and the gun having been fired.”
Ralston, a 21-year veteran of the department, told investigators he was grazed by gunfire when he came up on two Black men walking on the train tracks. Supposedly, Ralston said that when he flagged the two men, one of them immediately fled the scene. When he got closer to the second suspect, who was still walking, the suspect turned around and pulled out a handgun. Ralston said he reacted, quickly smacking away the gun as the suspect opened fire.
The shooter was described as a young Black male with cornrows — a profile that unfortunately was cut to fit a lot of young Black men in West Philadelphia.
“The ultimate goal was that we get the truth out of this matter,” said Curtis Douglas, Deputy District Attorney of the Investigation Division “The problem was that Ralston gave a story that we could not independently disprove.”
Douglas said the investigation was at a stand still. The police knew there was something wrong with Ralston’s story almost from the beginning. But the problem was that it was totally impossible to disprove it.
“We decided there was only one way to get at the truth. Only one witness who could tell us what happened and that was Ralston. So at that point we decided, because we have a police sergeant, whom we believe shot himself — it becomes a prime goal that we get that gun away from him.”