Police in St. Paul, Minn., announced Wednesday that a St. Catherine University public safety officer lied when he said a Black male shot him on campus, which put “Black youth at risk,” said the president of the St. Paul African-American Leadership Council.
Brent Patrick Ahlers, 25, admitted to investigators that he accidentally shot himself in the shoulder on duty Tuesday while handling his personal handgun, law enforcement said at a press conference. He made up a story about an active shooter because he feared losing his job, as firearms are not permitted to be carried by or issued to the university’s public safety.
Ahlers called 911 just before 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and reported that a suspicious person whom he confronted had shot him in a wooded corner on the St. Paul campus. He described the assailant as a Black male with a “short afro,” wearing a navy blue sweatshirt and black jeans, according to a police scanner clip. Ahlers was taken to Regions Hospital, treated and released.
Sgt. Mike Ernster, a St. Paul Police Department spokesman, said the incident had about “1,800 students held captive in their dorm rooms at St. Catherine’s, it had residents of the Mac-Groveland and Highland Park communities fearing they would be hurt in their homes.”
Shortly before 10 p.m. Tuesday students were on lockdown while police spent several hours searching for the shooter. A total of 55 officers, four police K-9s and a Minnesota State Patrol aircraft circling overhead were involved in the search, Ernster said.
Tuesday night, the university sent out tweets warning students of the police search for a hostile shooter.
UPDATE :: POLICE ARE ON SCENE SEARCHING FOR A HOSTILE SHOOTER. REMAIN INDOORS UNTIL ALL CLEAR IS GIVEN. CALL 651-690-8888 WITH ANY INFO.
— St. Kate’s (@StKate) September 13, 2017
According to the Minneapolis City Pages, the message of a Black gunman on the loose spread to the nearby Highland Park neighborhood. A resident who is a regular police scanner listener posted the following tweet:
— Julie (@wwozzydo) September 13, 2017
Police didn’t locate a suspect and called off the search just after midnight. At 2 a.m. Wednesday, St. Paul Police and the university issued an all clear for the campus after every building was searched.
During interviews, officers noticed inconsistencies in Ahlers’ story, and later that day he confessed. He was arrested for falsely reporting a crime, a misdemeanor, and booked into the Ramsey County jail.
He was released on bail Thursday. Deputy City Attorney Laura Pietan said the St. Paul City Attorney’s office is reviewing the case and has yet to make a charging decision, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
All classes and activities resumed at the college Wednesday. University President Becky Roloff confirmed in a statement Thursday that Ahlers has been fired.
“I want to be clear that St. Catherine University strongly condemns racial discrimination, racial stereotyping and racial profiling of any kind,” Roloff said. “The statements attributed to the former employee concerning the race of an alleged suspect are deeply troubling and do not reflect our values.”
In a statement Wednesday, Roloff said Ahlers worked at the college for 15 months and had no previous reports of misconduct. She also said that firearms are prohibited on campus.
“It’s a sickening thing,” Tyrone Terrill, president of the St. Paul African-American Leadership Council, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “He put not only Black youth at risk, he put St. Paul police and other law enforcement at risk with his lie.”
“Suspicious” Black Males in Sweatshirts
Ahlers telling 911 that he confronted a suspicious Black man in a sweatshirt is similar to George Zimmerman describing Trayvon Martin to the emergency dispatcher as a “suspicious guy,” “in a dark hoodie, a gray hoodie.”
On Feb. 26, 2012, Martin, 17, was unarmed when he was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman deemed Martin, who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt or “hoodie” on his way back from a convenience store, as a threat. Martin was only carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Iced Tea.
Florida Memorial University will present the degree to Martin’s parents “in honor of his love for planes and the steps he took during his young life toward becoming a pilot.”
The hoodie, which Zimmerman considered a symbol of menace, became a symbol of injustice toward Martin, and even Black men in general.
The same year, the NBA’s Miami Heat made a team-wide response to Martin’s death by taking a photo wearing hoodies. Then team captain LeBron James posted the photo on his Twitter page with the hashtag: #WeAreTrayvonMartin.
At rallies in support of Martin, protesters wore hoodies. In 2013, the Smithsonian was reportedly interested in acquiring the hoodie Martin was wearing.
Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges.
Ahlers’ lie about a Black shooter isn’t the first time the St. Paul area has been in the spotlight in regard to perception of Black males. Philando Castile was fatally shot during a traffic stop on July 6, 2016, by Jeronimo Yanez, a St. Anthony Police Department officer, in Falcon Heights, a suburb of the city.
As Castile lay dying behind the wheel, his girlfriend live-streamed the aftermath on her cellphone. The shooting death of Castile led to weeks of protests.
Dashcam video shows what happened before police killed Castile during a traffic stop.
Yanez was charged with manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm. In June, during the trial, dashboard camera video was released. Despite Castile having a legal permit to carry a gun, the officer fired seven shots and hit Castile five times, including twice in the heart.
Yanez is no longer with St. Anthony Police Department, but he was acquitted of all criminal charges in the death of Castile.