Last week's shooting was not first for VIPD officer


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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. police officer who shot a man during a routine inspection of a housing community last week also shot a man in 2011 when the officer was off-duty.

Officer Kendelth Wharton did not appear in V.I. Superior Court on Wednesday for the advice of rights hearing of Azamba Galloway, the man that Wharton shot.

Galloway, 23, is being charged with first-degree assault, third-degree assault, unauthorized possession of an unlicensed firearm, unauthorized possession of an unlicensed firearm during the commission of a crime and reckless endangerment.

Galloway, who had his limbs wrapped and was in a wheelchair, suffered two gunshot wounds, one in his arm, and one in his leg, according to V.I. Police Department spokeswoman Melody Rames.

Galloway, a technician for the V.I. Tax Assessor's Office, does not have a criminal history in either the territory or in the states, according to his attorney, Florence Kahugu of the territorial public defender's office.

"He did run, he did fall, and he was shot by a police officer," Kahugu said.

Kahugu requested that her client's charges be dropped, and that the $100,000 bail be reduced.

Magistrate Carolyn Hermon-Percell reduced his bail Wednesday to $50,000.

Wharton is on paid administrative leave, according to officer Akeem Frett, who testified in court Wednesday. Police have not stated how long Wharton will be on leave.

Kahugu suggested that the hearing be continued until Wharton could appear in court and testify under oath.

"He's not sick. He's not in the hospital. He should have been here today," Kahugu said.

Police will not share how many officer-involved shootings Wharton has been involved in, though court records confirmed that Wharton was involved in at least one.

Wharton also was found to have improperly arrested a man, who eventually was exonerated of his charges, during a traffic stop in April 2010.

During the traffic stop case, Wharton was summoned to testify, though he never did, despite a request from the prosecution for his arrest after his failure to show in court.

Past cases

Wharton was off-duty Oct. 30, 2011, when he shot Claude Auguste at Lake's Chicken Fry and Bar. Auguste was accused of harassing one of the restaurant employees by shouting obscenities, according to the affidavit.

Wharton asked Auguste to leave the premises, according to a probable cause fact sheet filled out by officer Ingrid Bukle. At the time, Wharton did not testify.

Bukle testified in Wharton's place that Wharton attempted to escort Auguste, who Wharton said was drunk, outside of the establishment. The two men began to fight, and when Wharton freed himself, Auguste pulled a box cutter knife on Wharton, Bukle said.

Wharton told Auguste to drop the knife, and when Auguste continued to approach him with the knife, Wharton identified himself as a police officer and then shot several rounds at Auguste as he continued to approach, according to the affidavit. Auguste suffered gunshot wounds, though how many is not specified, to the lower torso, according to Bukle.

The case is pending, according to court officials, and Wharton has been subpoenaed to appear for testimony. The next hearing scheduled is a pre-trial conference in August.

Wharton also was involved in a case in which Wharton pulled over Ahmoi Lewis during a traffic stop, though Wharton never testified in the case, which was handled in federal court. Wharton was summoned to testify during pretrial hearings but never did so, and the prosecution requested a bench warrant for Wharton's arrest as a result.

The presiding judge, District Court Judge Curtis Gomez, denied the warrant for Wharton's arrest.

According to court documents, V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources officers had told Wharton on April 9, 2010, that a white Toyota Camry was carrying firearms after the DPNR officers received a phoned in tip. The tipster did not specify how he or she knew this information, or whether the firearms were licensed, according to a 3rd Circuit court opinion.

After Wharton received the tip, he stopped the vehicle. Upon the arrival of officer Jose Mendez, the two approached the vehicle and both officers told the driver, Lewis, that the vehicle had been stopped because the windshield was tinted too dark.

Lewis was charged with possession of an illegal firearm.

"Because neither the illegal tints, nor the tip, was sufficient, the government failed to meet its burden of proving that the traffic stop was supported by reasonable suspicion," according to the 3rd Circuit court opinion.

The opinion, released in March 2012, vacated the conviction and sentence for the charge.

Current case

About eight to 10 special operations officers went to the Michael J. Kirwan Terrace housing complex at about 5:40 p.m. Friday, Frett said on the stand Wednesday.

The officers were there to conduct "an inspection for any illegal activity and to remove any tables, chairs and other items that would cause individuals to loiter on the public street," according to the probable cause fact sheet, written by Frett.

Initially, the fact sheet indicated that Wharton wrote the document, though court officials were instructed to correct the document Wednesday in court. They also corrected the date to read May 30, instead of May 20.

Upon arrival at the housing complex, the officers announced that they were with the V.I. Police, as is required by law, Frett said. Several people were in the nearby area, Frett said.

Galloway told Kahugu, his public defender, that the officers did not identify themselves as police and were not dressed as police, Kahugu said.

Frett said that they identified themselves and were wearing their special operations gear, which reads "Police" on the bullet-proof vests.

After the inspection began, Frett suddenly heard the firing of gunshots and realized that Wharton was missing, after which two officers were sent to look for him, according to the probable cause fact sheet.

Wharton was located, the probable cause fact sheet said, at which point Wharton heard another officer state on the radio that two men were running behind one of the buildings. Wharton pursued the men.

One of the men, Galloway, then "turned" on Wharton, Frett said. Galloway pulled a black pistol from his waste and pointed it at Wharton, according to the probable cause fact sheet.

Wharton told Frett that he felt that his life was in imminent danger, at which point he shot Galloway.

When Frett spotted Wharton and Galloway, Frett was on the ground with the firearm two feet away from him, Frett said on the stand. He admitted that he did not see Galloway holding the gun at any time.

The firearm, which has an obliterated serial number, was confiscated and sent to the department's firearms unit, according to a statement Monday from police.

Firearm records indicated that Galloway does not possess a firearms license.

Galloway was transported to Schneider Hospital, though police did not arrest him until Monday.

A police spokeswoman said that she would not release information as to when Galloway was released from the hospital.

Officer-involved shootings

Friday's officer-involved shooting was the second in just more than a month on St. Thomas.

A police officer, who has not been identified, shot and killed Clyde Norford, 31, on April 26 outside of the Carnival Village on its opening night.

Police stated that Norford, who originally is from St. Kitts, had a firearm on him, though they never stated that he pulled the firearm.

Norford was charged in the 2008 murder case of Gregory Zakers, and at one point was scheduled to be a witness in the case, according to St. Kitts Police spokesman Inspector Lyndon Davis.

V.I. Police have not released any details as to the progress of the ongoing internal investigation into the shooting.

The V.I. Police Department has been operating under a consent decree for the past five years, after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found that the department has a pattern of using excessive force.

The U.S. Justice Department sued the territory in connection with the investigation, and the decree is meant to settle the lawsuit.

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

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