An off-duty Memphis police officer was suspended with pay this week after reportedly stealing a Make-A-Wish Foundation gift from a terminally ill three-year-old.
According to reports, the officer, 34-year-old Ronald Harris, followed a Make-A-Wish Foundation volunteer to the Memphis International Airport where a meeting with the recipient family was to be held.
As the volunteer sat with the family, who was about to receive a bag containing t-shirts and a $1,500 gift card, Harris quietly approached and seized the items. Being noticed by the volunteer, Harris reportedly attempted to play the theft off as a mistake.
Several minutes later, Harris returned and snatched the bag a second time before running out of the terminal. A family member of the sick toddler was head-butted by Harris as he attempted to retrieve the bag, an injury that later required several stitches.
Statements from the incident’s police report indicate that Harris then fought several officers, even escaping from a police car at one point.
The Memphis Police Department later announced that Harris would be suspended with pay until an internal investigation could be conducted. Currently in custody on $25,000 bail, Harris now faces several charges including escape from felony incarceration, aggravated assault and robbery.
“It is certainly disheartening and I am deeply saddened that an organization as wonderful as Make-A-Wish was victimized by someone sworn to protect, especially a member of the Memphis Police Department,” Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong told reporters. “Thankfully, no one sustained serious injuries. This officer is now facing serious charges for his criminal behavior. The Airport Police is to be commended for their quick response and professionalism.”
Liz Nelson, President and CEO of Make-A-Wish, released a similar statement condemning the officer’s actions.
“People make poor choices, and we don’t know the decisions that lead this person to do what they did” Nelson said. “We are just fortunate that we have the Memphis Police Department and the airport.”
According to WMC Action News 5, Harris’ 12-year tenure with the department has been plagued with countless violations.
“Harris’ personnel file contained several violations including damage to a squad car, radio violations, sick leave policy abuse, sleeping on the job, failure to get approval for additional employment, and failure to appear in court,” the investigation states. “Most resulted in a written reprimand or a short suspension.”
Harris’ alleged actions represent the rife corruption issues facing countless police departments across the country, where officers engaged in blatant criminal activity continue to be rewarded with special protection from the laws they purport to uphold.