When Sgt. Robert Ralston, then a 21-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, reported that he had been shot in the shoulder by a black man during a struggle in the city’s Overbrook section back in April 2010, it riled up the law enforcement community, which vowed to capture the assailant.
Unfortunately for the police department and the community, Ralston had made up the entire account, later admitting to investigators that he shot himself in the shoulder with his own service pistol.
Now, an Overbrook resident who was allegedly caught up in the aftermath of the falsified incident is suing the City of Philadelphia and a handful of unidentified officers, contending that they burst into her home without a warrant following the incident when police were still on high alert, searching for whom they thought was a shooter on the loose.
Philadelphia attorney Thomas Bruno, of the firm Abramson & Denenberg, filed a complaint at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia April 16 on behalf of Lisa Morton, her two children and her son’s girlfriend, who were present during what she contends was an illegal police entry into her home three days after Ralston reported being shot by someone.
The complaint alleges that while she was inside her home with her two sons, Jaylen Miller and Tahir Morton-Walker, and Walker’s girlfriend, Tu-Myonnoh Kpou, who are all named as co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Lisa Morton was surprised by 15 city police officers, who “stormed” into her house with guns drawn without warning demanding cooperation.
Morton, who has a history of hypertension, high blood pressure and other health problems, began hyperventilating when the officers trained their guns on her and her family, the lawsuit claims.
When she asked whether the officers had a warrant to enter her home, Morton was told that “we don’t need a warrant because a cop was shot.”
The complaint alleges that at no time did the defendants have probable cause and/or reasonable suspicion to “seize and detain the Plaintiffs.”
“Notwithstanding the clearly established lack of any lawful justification for their actions, the defendants entered and searched the plaintiff’s residence, looking in the kitchen, cellar and each of the closets, overturning the plaintiff’s beds and thoroughly ransacking the plaintiffs’ belongings,” the lawsuit states. “When the plaintiff, Lisa Morton, protested the illegal search of her home, the defendants pointed their weapons in her face again, demanding that she be silent and angrily stating ‘we’re looking for the person you are hiding here.’”
The lawsuit claims that the officers also held Morton’s younger son, Miller, then 13, at gunpoint, and afterward made their way upstairs and pulled the bed sheets off of Kpou, the older son’s girlfriend, who was pregnant and naked at the time.
“The illegal entry and subsequent illegal search of the plaintiffs’ home uncovered no incriminating evidence for use against the plaintiffs or any other person,” the lawsuit states.
As a result of the incident, the suit claims, the plaintiffs suffered emotional distress, including anxiety, fear, embarrassment, insomnia, mental anguish and a “general and persistent sense of psychological insecurity in the plaintiff’s own home as well as in the presence of Philadelphia Police Officers.”
The lawsuit alleges constitutional violations as well as counts of illegal entry, illegal seizure, false imprisonment, conspiracy, bystander liability, and other state law claims.
The plaintiffs demand unspecified compensatory damages, interest, attorney’s fees and delay damages.
They are demanding a jury trial.
As for Ralston, the sergeant whose intentional self-shooting caused police to fan across West Philadelphia in search of the person they believed at the time to be a criminal on the loose, he was fired by Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey in early May 2010, according to local news reports.
However, Ralston was apparently able to keep his pension, since there were never any criminal charges filed against him, although he was made to reimburse the police department for the resources used to search for his phantom shooter.
The federal case number is 2:12-cv-02008-JS.