Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans and Mehgaan Jones
Clayton County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Wole Ralph declared on Monday that he was not guilty of several charges -- including driving under the influence -- stemming from a traffic stop that occurred over the weekend in Atlanta.
Ralph was arrested in southwest Atlanta early Saturday morning, after he was pulled over by Atlanta police officers, with whom he allegedly got into a "brief struggle," during the traffic stop, according to a written statement from the Atlanta Police Department.
The statement shows that Ralph faces charges of driving under the influence, driving under the influence (less safe), obstruction of an officer, reckless driving, and failure to maintain a lane.
Ralph responded to the charges in a short, written statement, but he added that he had been advised by his attorney not to comment further on the issue. The commission vice chairman did not explain what happened on Saturday, other than to say it occurred while he was leaving the parking lot of a bowling alley on Metropolitan Parkway.
"I deeply regret this occurrence," he said. "I am not guilty of these violations, and I look forward to resolving this matter in court. I fully expect that I will be afforded the same due process as any other citizen, and subsequently vindicated."
Ralph was arrested Saturday, shortly after 2:30 a.m., when Atlanta police officers saw a red Mustang "driving recklessly" out of a parking lot located at 1919 Metropolitan Pkwy., in Atlanta, according to a written statement from Atlanta Police spokesperson, Officer Kimberly Maggart.
"Officers initiated a traffic stop and, after the driver refused to cooperate and a brief struggle ensued, were able to place under arrest Clayton County Commissioner Wole Ralph," Maggart said.
Another Atlanta police spokesperson, Sgt. Curtis Davenport, confirmed that Ralph was the alleged driver of the Mustang.
Maggart added that Ralph "complained" to officers that he was experiencing unspecified pain, but Grady Emergency Medical Services paramedics "advised he did not need to be treated at the hospital." She said Ralph was transported to the Atlanta Grady Detention Center for further DUI processing.
According to detention center officials, Ralph was released on the same day of his arrest. He was later taken to the Atlanta City Detention Center, and was released on a $4,300 bond, according to jail officials.
Ralph was first elected to the county commission in 2004. His biography on the Clayton County government web site shows that he serves on the board of directors of Southern Regional Medical Center. The biography also shows that he is a past recipient of Mothers Against Drunk Driving's (MADD) Community Champion Award.
Ralph will not face any form of punishment from state officials as a result of his DUI arrest this past weekend in Atlanta, according to spokespersons for the state attorney general's office and the governor's office. The charges he is facing are misdemeanors, according to Atlanta Police spokesperson Kimberly Maggart. Because the charges are misdemeanors, state rules governing the removal of local officials do not apply, said Georgia Attorney General's Office spokesperson, Lauren Cane.
"We have a program for city councilmen, and county commissioners, where if they are indicted on a felony charge, then, they will be brought before a panel which could recommend their removal from office, if it will impact the person's ability to do his or her job," Cane said. "But, since these are only misdemeanor charges, our office will not get involved."
Several Clayton County commission members have said they do not see Ralph's arrest as something that would negatively impact county operations, or the commission vice chairman's ability to serve in a leadership position.
Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said he was "saddened" by news of the arrest, but he trusts "it will not have any negative impact on the day-to-day operations of the county."
Commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick, in a joint statement, stood by Ralph, praising him for leadership on the county commission. "His leadership, his counsel and his friendship have been invaluable to us as we strive to improve the quality of life in our districts and our county," Singleton and Hambrick said in the written statement.
"Let us state unequivocally that nothing we have heard to this point in any way undermines our support for him, and our desire to see him continue to provide leadership to this board and this community."