Retired St. Croix VIPD sergeant faces murder charges in September shooting


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ST. CROIX - More than six months after the fatal shooting of Jose Edgardo Rivera Berrios on the balcony of his apartment in Christiansted, police detectives arrested a retired V.I. Police sergeant, saying that his actions when he fatally shot the man were unjustified.

Retired Police Sgt. Ronald Hatcher, who also is a former director at the V.I. Police Department's Training Academy, surrendered to police accompanied by his attorney just before sunrise Tuesday.

Just hours later, Hatcher made his initial court appearance before V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks to be advised of his rights on a charge of second-degree murder.

When Hatcher arrived at the courthouse, he was kept in a holding area separate from the other four defendants who also were appearing for an advice-of-rights hearing Tuesday.

Following the other matters, Hatcher was escorted into the courtroom by a deputy marshal. He wore a light blue guayaberra shirt and light grey dress pants, and his hands were restrained in front of him as he made his way before the judge.

Willocks advised Hatcher that because a warrant had been issued in the case, the judge did not have the duty of finding probable cause to charge him with second-degree murder; first-degree reckless endangerment; and carrying or using a dangerous weapon during the commission of a crime of violence stemming from the Sept. 26 shooting.

Police Detective Frankie Ortiz said in his affidavit that he was dispatched to the reports of a shooting incident in the Queen Cross Street area of Christiansted, near Pucha's bar. When Ortiz arrived, he met with several witnesses including Hatcher, who said that he had shot a man and directed Ortiz to an upstairs balcony.

Ortiz said emergency medical personnel arrived on the scene and determined that the man - now identified as Berrios - had no vital signs as he lay on his back on the porch in a pool of his own blood with a single gunshot wound to his chest.

Ortiz contacted Berrios' roommate, who told police he was inside his room watching television when he heard an argument between two people outside. The roommate said he looked to see who was arguing, and he saw Berrios and Hatcher arguing at the bottom of the stairway that led to their apartment.

The roommate said that he pulled Berrios away and took him upstairs to the apartment but that Berrios continued the argument from above, with Hatcher arguing from below on the street.

According to Ortiz's affidavit, Berrios continued cursing at Hatcher from the porch, and the roommate said Berrios tried to climb down from off the porch and the roommate heard a shot fired.

Ortiz said he spoke with the owner of the bar the following day, and she told police that she saw Berrios chasing someone down the street, toward the bar, so she locked the door.

She said that minutes later she saw Berrios walking up the street with a rifle in his hand, and Hatcher was walking right behind him, talking to him.

She told police the argument continued and she listened from inside her business, and when Hatcher saw her looking out, he told her to call 911 and as she walked back to the bar to make the call, she heard a shot fired.

Ortiz said no weapons were on the porch where Berrios was found. A rifle that Ortiz said was found at the bottom of the stairs when police arrived was identified as a toy shotgun.

A week after the shooting, Hatcher was brought in to police to give a video statement. Ortiz said Hatcher told police that on the day of the shooting he saw a man running and saying that another man down the street was threatening to kill him with a rifle.

Hatcher said the man pointed toward the bar and as Hatcher turned, he saw another man - now identified as Berrios - pointing the rifle at him so he drew his weapon and ordered the man to put the gun down.

Hatcher said the man refused and kept coming at him, taunting Hatcher to fight, while the man's roommates tried to get the rifle away, eventually succeeding and putting it against the building.

Hatcher said the man started coming down off the balcony again, but this time he had something in his hand and he threw one leg over the balcony and as he pulled his other leg over the balcony to come down on him, and that was when he fired the shot.

Hatcher told police that he felt that his life was endangered.

Ortiz said based on the autopsy report, Berrios died of massive internal bleeding due to a gunshot wound to the chest and that he had been drunk from alcohol and high on cocaine. The wound path showed that the Hatcher was on the street and fired upwards as Berrios was leaning over the balcony at his waist, according to police.

During Tuesday's hearing, Assistant Attorney Joseph Ponteen asked that bail be set at $500,000 because of the severity of the charges, although the prosecution does not see him as a flight risk or danger to the community.

Willocks set bail at $150,000 and allowed Hatcher to post property valued at $75,000 and sign an unsecured bond along with his wife in the amount of $75,000.

Because he had not been turned over to the Bureau of Corrections following his arrest, Hatcher was allowed to walk out of court after posting bail.

He was ordered to turn over to police his seven additional firearms, but allowed to keep one weapon for safety.

Hatcher also was arraigned and pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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