By Allison Steele and Troy Graham
INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
It was the phone call police in Philadelphia most dread: an officer shot while on patrol.
In a city that has seen more than its share of police killings in recent years, the department’s leaders were grimly prepared. Sometime after 4 a.m. on April 5, after Sgt. Robert Ralston was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania with a shoulder wound, the department’s top brass rushed to his side, including Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who was sick with a stomach virus.
Ralston’s injury turned out to be minor. But when he started telling the tale of his brush with disaster, the story raised red flags almost immediately.
Ralston, 46, said he had been shot in West Philadelphia by a black man who pointed a revolver at his head, then grazed him in the shoulder when Ralston knocked the gun away. He said he had returned fire and hit the man in the chest, but no gunshot victim turned up in a hospital.
When Ralston called his children to report what had happened, one police officer at the hospital noticed Ralston seemed eager to appear heroic.
And within hours of the shooting, Ralston got out of his hospital bed, picked up his bloodied shirt, and put it back on. He then returned to the scene to help with the investigation.
“It was strange,” said Deputy Commissioner William Blackburn. “His reactions didn’t add up.”