False alarm: St. Catherine public safety officer shot himself

| September 14, 2017 | 2 Comments

University emphasizes its condemnation of racism in light of officer’s claim that ‘shooter’ was black

A day after a reported shooting incident shook the St. Catherine University campus, the St. Paul Police found the shooter, an unlikely suspect.

Police arrested St. Catherine public safety officer Brent Ahlers, 25, who falsely reported a shooting in the wooded part of campus in St. Paul Sept. 12 as reported in The Catholic Spirit. The St. Catherine officer had possession of his own hand gun, and he accidentally shot himself in the shoulder.

“While we are distressed and saddened that this incident occurred, we are relieved that no other members of the community were injured,” said Becky Roloff, the university president, Sept. 13. “Investigators announced earlier in the day their belief that there was no threat to public safety.”

Ahlers had been treated at Regions Hospital in St. Paul for the gun wound before being released. St. Catherine placed Ahlers on paid leave of absence Sept. 13 during the investigation for the alleged shooter. The university fired him Sept. 14.

Roloff also released a statement Sept. 14 regarding Ahlers’ false report, which included him describing the “shooter” as black. She said “I want to be clear that St. Catherine University strongly condemns racial discrimination, racial stereotyping, and racial profiling of any kind. The statements attributed to the former employee concerning the race of an alleged suspect are deeply troubling and do not reflect our values.”

Police charged Ahlers with a misdemeanor Sept. 13 for the false report. In addition, Ahlers violated the university’s policy against having firearms on campus. St. Catherine public safety officers also don’t carry firearms.

The police had the campus locked down during a campus-wide search for four hours after the initial report. Classes and activities resumed Sept. 13.

According to Roloff’s statement, Ahlers had “no reports of misconduct on his record prior to this incident.” Ahlers, a university public safety employee for 15 months, had “undergone a thorough background check” and had a law enforcement associate degree from Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park.

At a Sept. 15 news conference organized by the African American Leadership Council, St. Paul NAACP and St. Paul Black Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, African-American leaders in St. Paul said Ahler’s false report that a black man shot him endangered young black men. They also accused the university of not denouncing strongly enough the racial prejudices underling Ahler’s lie, and asked its leaders to apologize.

In a Sept. 15 statement, Roloff said the university “tried to condemn his words and actions in the strongest possible language.”

“We’re very sorry for the impact this unfortunate event had on our entire community: police officers who responded in the dark of night, African-American men who might have been endangered or unjustly profiled or accused, neighbors who were very frightened, and course the entire St. Catherine community.

“Whatever happened over these past few days perpetuates a dangerous stereotype and echoes our country’s tragic and continuing history of racism,” she continued. “No one can ever afford to rest in the pursuit of justice and fairness in our society. St. Kate’s, as a Catholic institution founded for women a century ago by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, remains steadfast in this pursuit.”

Updated Sept. 18

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Category: Local News

  • Ann Mongoven

    I’m glad to see the Catholic Spirit following this story but as a member of the surrounding neighborhood and resident of St Paul, there is much more to cover about the story and impact it has had upon the community. I assume you will be updating your story soon. Today’s Pioneer Press story entitled “Innocent Black Men Were Endangered as a Result of St Kate’s Security Guard’s Lie,” has more information.

  • Ann Mongoven

    Thank you for adding more information to your story. I realize you are mostly a weekly paper so it is often challenging to keep up with stories as they are happening. But now that more facts are in I believe it’s time to update the headline and perhaps reorder the story a bit to make it easier for readers new to the story to understand what occurred. I’d suggest a new headline along the lines of, “St Kate’s White Security Guard Shoots Himself, Blames a Black Man to Cover Up