When Shawna Blackmon’s boyfriend didn’t show up to the downtown Mobile, Ala., restaurant by 8:30 p.m. on Friday, she was slightly irritated. Blackmon had arrived with her hair and nails done, expecting a nice dinner date.
A short while later, a mutual friend called her: McPherson, who was a member of a motorcycle group, was being chased by police — and had a gun with him, the friend told her.
“I always feel like I have to protect him,” Blackmon told The Washington Post in a phone call Tuesday. “I felt like I can fix this and just protect him and make sure that nothing happened.”
So Blackmon rushed over to a nearby Exxon gas station, where her friend said McPherson was, along with other members of the biker community.
There, she found three Mobile police officers surrounding McPherson and his motorcycle at a gas pump, with what appeared to be guns drawn and pointed at her boyfriend.
“Get on the ground!” one officer yelled at McPherson. “Get on the ground now!”
Blackmon rushed over as McPherson removed his motorcycle helmet and knelt on the ground. With her left palm, she motioned for the officers to back away as she put a hand on her boyfriend.
“Get his gun from him!” one officer ordered her.
“I will,” Blackmon shouted. “Back up. I will.”
She would later say she was so focused on helping that she didn’t realize that the officers were holding stun guns, not real guns.
“I was just trying to get the gun from him to make sure that nothing happened,” Blackmon told The Post. “I just wanted to make sure that he was okay. I felt like I could de-escalate it, talk to the officers, try to explain [everything].”
The fact that they were surrounded by most of McPherson’s friends from the biker group — a couple of whom were recording the encounter with their smartphones — didn’t strike Blackmon as out of the ordinary either.
“Friday night is always bike night,” Blackmon said. “I wasn’t suspicious at all. It was a normal night.”
By the time she turned to face her boyfriend again, McPherson was pulling a small box out of his inside pocket. Suddenly, the officers began cheering and clapping. Blackmon, stunned, covered her face with her hands and started to cry as she realized what was happening.
McPherson asked her to marry him. She said yes.
“I was overwhelmed with everything that was going on that day,” Blackmon said. “When I realized that he was actually proposing, I was just happy that he took so much time and effort.”
McPherson said he had been planning the unusual proposal for more than two months. The Alabama couple has been together for more than five years, and McPherson said their daughter had already “spilled the beans” that he had bought a ring, forcing him to step up his game.
“I had other ideas but the other ideas were clichéd, and she would have known that I was getting ready to set her up,” he said. “I had to be creative, because any time I’m acting outside the box . . . she knows.”
McPherson visited the Mobile Police Department earlier that day to request their help. He didn’t know anybody there but, as a tattoo artist with an independent shop in Mobile, he said he has met many officers.
“I just went and talked into them at the last minute and just shot them my pitch, like, this is the only way that she’s going to believe that it’s real,” McPherson said. “I said, I need you guys’ help — and maybe, just maybe, we can help each other because you know there’s a lot of videos on the Internet that’s portraying officers in a negative light.”
This one, he told the officers, would “end with happiness.”
“They were all for it,” McPherson said. He said Terrence Perkins, a Mobile police spokesman, asked “a lot of precautionary questions” about safety.
McPherson assured him all of his biker friends would know this was a staged arrest. He also advised them to let Blackmon feel in control of the situation.
“If you grab Shawna, she’s going to go crazy,” McPherson said he told them. “If you grab me, she’s going to go crazy.”
The unorthodox proposal was captured on video by two of their friends and posted to Facebook. Within days, the videos had been collectively viewed more than 10 million times and attracted thousands of comments online. Some have wished the couple well, cheering such an unique approach. Others have criticized the setup as unnecessarily traumatizing and a tragedy waiting to happen.
McPherson said he never meant to offend anybody or imagined that the proposal would have gone viral in the way that it has.
“I would say I’m sorry if y’all took this in the wrong way,” he said. “I did not set this up to make a mockery of anybody. I was just literally trying to get the best proposal that I can and make this a memorable night that she will never forget. … They saying it’s not romantic but everybody’s different. If [a traditional proposal was] what she liked, that’s what I would have gave her. I know that that’s not her.”
A spokesman for the Mobile Police Department did not return a phone call Tuesday morning.
Perkins told the Guardian that none of the stun guns were loaded and that no guns were used. The assistant police chief had approved the idea earlier in the day, and on-duty officers in the area were informed about the staged proposal before a fake radio call went out, he added.
“At no time was he placed in any danger or anyone on the scene,” Perkins told the paper. “It actually showed us outside the capacity of writing tickets. It showed that we do have a human side as well.”