St. Croix man who works for senator arrested, charged with failing to register as a sex offender
Published: February 20, 2014
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ST. CROIX - A 44-year-old sex offender - who lied on his job application to work for Sen. Judi Buckley, according to a V.I. Legislature official - made his initial federal court appearance Wednesday afternoon after being charged with failure to register as a sex offender.
Christopher Barry Mitchell, of Work and Rest, was hauled away in handcuffs minutes after federal agents showed up at his office, where he works as a researcher for Buckley at the V.I. Legislature in Frederiksted.
He appeared before Magistrate Judge George Cannon a few hours later, still dressed in his work clothes, a purple dress shirt and khaki pants.
Mitchell was represented by Assistant Federal Public Defender Lisa Brown-Williams as Cannon advised him that a federal grand jury returned an indictment that charges him with the single count of failure to register as a sex offender, a violation of federal law.
Mitchell's underlying sex crimes stem from a 1998 conviction in Florida for having indecent contact with a girl younger than 16. He was convicted again in 2006 on a charge of failure to register as a sex offender in Okaloosa, Fla., according to court documents.
According to the National Sex Offender Registry, Mitchell began registering after his last conviction up until 2012.
Buckley referred all questions about the matter to Iver Stridiron, executive director of the V.I. Legislature, who said he spoke with her and she was devastated after learning of the arrest.
"She brought him in to work with her and assumed that he spoke truthfully on the application and had no inclination that he had such a record," Stridiron said Wednesday.
Stridiron said Mitchell lied on his application before he began working for Buckley when the 30th Legislature took office in January 2013.
Mitchell was specifically asked on the application whether he had ever been convicted of any sexual offenses against a minor and whether he had ever been convicted of a felony or first-degree misdemeanor and answered in the negative to both, he said.
"He checked 'No' both times and certified to it, so we had no idea that he was a sex offender," Stridiron said.
The status of Mitchell's employment at the Legislature is not known at this time, according to Stridiron, who said it will be up to Buckley to decide what action will be taken.
"Since he is a member of the senator's personal staff, she is the only one who can determine whether he is terminated or suspended or what, but telling a lie on the application is certainly a serious matter," he said.
At Mitchell's advice-of-rights hearing Wednesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alphonso Andrews told the court that bail in the case had been set at $25,000 and his office would not be opposed to Mitchell signing an unsecured bond in the amount of the bail as long as he presents a third-party custodian who is acceptable to the court.
Cannon advised Mitchell that while he was not made to post any funds up front to be released from custody, if he violates any of the conditions of release that were imposed, he could be held liable for the money.
Cannon released Mitchell from custody Wednesday afternoon but ordered that he return at 9 a.m. today with a proposed custodian that the court will consider.
Stridiron said Wednesday that having a criminal past would not necessarily prohibit someone from being employed at the Legislature, but Mitchell's convictions were not made known when he was hired.
The Legislature has an extensive application process and that applicants have to certify to its accuracy, he said.
Stridiron said the Legislature first got wind that something might be wrong when they were contacted last July by an anonymous source. "Someone called and asked if we knew there was a sex offender working in our St. Croix office," he said. "We did some searches but could not verify that it was him. But we alerted the Department of Justice to research the matter, and we just kept an eye out and waited for their response."
Stridiron said he did not hear anything back from the Justice Department until Wednesday when Mitchell was arrested.
"So it appears that the information that we provided served as the catalyst for the subsequent investigation and now the arrest and charges," he said.
Stridiron said the Legislature was cautious and waited for word from the Justice Department so to not cause any undue alarm. Now that Mithchell's record is verified, there is concern because of the close proximity to a small school in the area and the children who reside in the housing complex shared by the Legislature, Stridiron said.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.