Government House defends VIPD's handling of Carnival violence


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ST. THOMAS - V.I. Government House responded with two statements issued Tuesday addressing public criticism of how the V.I. Police Department is dealing with violence surrounding the V.I. Carnival activities, which reach a climax this week on St. Thomas.

The response was two-fold, with an initial press release recognizing a number of seizures of unlicensed firearms in the last week.

The second press release called comments by Sen. Kenneth Gittens "mistruths" and "political rhetoric" and called on him to come forward and present his policies and "discuss in detail which tactics presently employed by the Virgin Islands Police Department are not working and which new strategies should be employed."

Gittens, the chairman of the Senate's Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety Committee, issued a statement Monday criticizing the police department's approach.

The public statements come on the heels of four shootings within the first two days of the opening of the Carnival Village.

Early Saturday morning, hours after the village opened officially, a V.I. Police officer shot and killed 31-year-old Clyde Norford in front of Fort Christian about 12:20 a.m., just yards from the Children's Village. Police are investigating the shooting, according to both Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard Sr. and St. Thomas-St. John Police Chief Darren Foy.

About 7 p.m. Sunday, as the boat races on the St. Thomas waterfront were winding down, three men were shot near Emile Griffith Park and later hospitalized. Police have not identified any suspects in those shootings.

Gittens said that he felt his attempts to reach out to Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s administration and suggest a more comprehensive policing plan for this year's Carnival celebration had fallen on deaf ears in the last year.

"Overall, we cannot continue to do things the same way and expect different results. Evidently, the tactics we are using are not working," Gittens said.

When asked what tactics he would suggest, Gittens said that he could not divulge what tactics those would be to the public. He did suggest "more boots on the ground," but he did not elaborate on how the government would fund additional resources.

"We have heard constant chatter from the senator with absolutely no substance behind his statements," Government House spokesman Jean Greaux Jr. said in the prepared statement issued Tuesday.

In the Government House statements, DeJongh underscored his support for the police department's operations plan for Carnival.

"I met with Commissioner Querrard, Chief Foy and their key officers to ensure that manpower would be strategically deployed, to ensure that there is increased lighting through the downtown area and that police officials continue to monitor and analyze street intelligence that is being gathered almost hourly," the governor said.

Greaux also discounted attempts to link the shootings to Carnival.

"In one incident, a police officer engaged deadly force when in his judgment a detained gun-toting suspect was being questioned and acted erratically, and in the second incident, it is believed that persons used the cover of Carnival to exact street justice," he said.

Both Government House statements also referenced a number of illegal firearms police and other law enforcement officials have confiscated within the last week, including:

- A semi-automatic pistol recovered on Friday by Special Operations Bureau officers in an area between Fort Christian and The Professional Building.

- A semi-automatic pistol recovered by forensics officers from Norford's body.

- A semi-automatic pistol recovered by forensics officers and criminal investigators on Sunday at the scene of the shootings near Emile Griffith Park.

- A semi-automatic pistol recovered by detectives on Monday at the scene of a shooting in the Oswald Harris Court housing community.

- A semi-automatic pistol recovered Tuesday morning by Special Operations Bureau officers in the area of All Saints School on Commandant Gade.

Additionally, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Jamal Rivera, 27, at King Airport on St. Thomas at 10 a.m. Tuesday and found a loaded .45-caliber handgun in his bag after he flew on a Seabourne flight from St. Croix, according to Government House.

It is unclear when agents realized Rivera had the firearm in his possession.

Rivera's criminal record includes charges of reckless endangerment, third-degree burglary and second-degree murder, Greaux said, but he did not say whether the charges were current.

DeJongh also said that the V.I. Police Department also is working with other local and federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, V.I. Port Authority Police and the V.I. Justice Department - to address Carnival safety issues.

"Today's gun interception and the confiscation of five other guns and three arrests over the last few days is evidence that a closely coordinated and executed strategy is effective," deJongh said in the statements. "The proactive work of the VIPD in executing the Carnival operations plan is a small part of the overall law enforcement initiative that is in place to heighten police presence and visibility during the Carnival festivities and ensure a good time will be had by all residents and visitors."

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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