Serpico Negro

Ofcr. Ralph Wilson's two-year South Miami-Dade racial ordeal was a clear case of cop culture at its worst

The six-foot 225-pound Wilson jumped out of his car and chased the perp, eventually tackling him. They wrestled, making enough noise to rouse neighbors, some of whom came scrambling out of their houses, screaming and hitting Wilson until the armed man wriggled free. In Goulds, cops are seen as the bad guys.

Wilson called for backup. It was Brian Mustacci who came to the scene, specifically assigned to block the suspect's escape. But when Wilson looked around, he couldn't find Mustacci. When other officers, arriving late, finally arrested the suspect, Wilson was furious. "I looked ... he left," growls Wilson. "I was really mad. He was my support. I was totally vulnerable. That guy was armed, you know? Without my backup, I was at serious risk."

Wilson approached Sergeant Christensen, also on the scene, and told him Mustacci had abandoned him. Christensen called Mustacci, and the three met a few blocks from the arrest site.

Former officer Ralph Wilson: Waiting on justice
Former officer Ralph Wilson: Waiting on justice

"I started to explain what had happened," Wilson asserts. "And then Mustacci said, ďIt don't matter what you say, because you're just a low-life, ass-fucking nigger! The sergeant ain't gonna do nothing!'"

According to Wilson, Mustacci then placed his hand on his holster in a threatening manner. In the suit he subsequently filed to get his job back, Wilson claims that Christensen told Mustacci not to address him in such terms but that Mustacci repeated the slur. Wilson reported the incident to Lts. Robert Brown and Ed Howett, but nothing much was done about Mustacci's alleged behavior. (Mustacci's Internal Affairs profile reveals he was cited for "discourtesy" to Wilson. It also shows he was cited for using excessive force seven times since 1994; Palacio had six similar citations since 1995. Neither man, nor any of the police officers in this story hostile to Wilson, could speak to New Times because of pending legal actions.)

Deciding that complaining to supervisors was a waste of time, Wilson filed a race-discrimination complaint with Internal Affairs relating to the January episode. Wilson's reinstatement suit alleges that Christensen threatened Wilson with "retaliation if [Wilson] approached IA about problems occurring in the squad." The investigative unit is still "looking into" the complaint.

Beginning as early as March 1999, Wilson claims he was continually harassed and intimidated. He became the subject of an IA investigation that accused him of falsifying a time sheet. Internal Affairs later determined the probe was baseless, according to Wilson's suit. That same month, the suit alleges, Sgt. Jeffrey Lampert began calling Wilson "schizophrenic" in front of other officers, suggesting that Wilson's "split personality had led" him to make false complaints against Sergeant Christensen and Lieutenant Brown. (Lampert's IA record shows fifteen citations for using excessive force since 1993, including four citizen complaints involving sprains and one bone fracture, but Lampert has never even been sanctioned.) On May 21, 1999, Wilson found in his mailbox a pornographic photograph of a nude white woman on her knees with writing across the front that read: "Stupid nigger, suck less dick, eat more pussy ..."

The next day, Wilson says he came to work ten minutes late, missed roll call, a mandatory meeting in which assignments are given out for the day, and was ordered by Sgt. Nelson Aloy to escort a suspect from a holding cell with another officer.

"I was waiting for the other officer when Aloy comes over. He starts yelling at me for being late and then not doing what he told me to do. We're in each other's faces, and I bump him with my belly. He claims I assaulted him. There's no way. I'm a big guy, but I didn't hurt him with my stomach! I guess I was ready to blow. I'd taken a lot of crap by that point," Wilson admits.

He was suspended for twenty days with pay and instructed to remain at home during his shift hours and check in with his supervisors at the beginning and end of his shift. By June 9 he was back at work.

"When I came back nothing had changed. Same harassment, same old," he asserts.

Wilson continued to work but also lodged a complaint July 8, 1999, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency responded by approving his right to sue the police department -- a move that didn't go over well with his colleagues. He says he endured taunting for the rest of the summer but never would have guessed what was in store for him on September 12, 1999.

As he was driving home around 2:00 a.m. from a Miami dance club, Wilson noticed a police car in the lane opposite him in his neighborhood -- an area Cutler Ridge cops routinely patrol. He says he was blinded by a bright light -- a spotlight manipulated by Ofcr. Enrique Sanchez. In a deposition taken later by Wilson's attorneys, Sanchez said Wilson was driving fifteen to twenty miles per hour in the 35-mile-per-hour residential area, and that he suspected the driver of "casing the neighborhood." Sanchez stated that Wilson then sped away at up to 70 miles per hour. Sanchez followed the car but admitted that he never turned on his emergency lights.

"We knew that was impossible," says attorney Dan Lurvey, who represented Wilson in the subsequent criminal case. "If you look at those streets and all the turns he would have had to make, there's just no way he could have been going that fast."

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