St. Thomas judge reduces bail for 3 arrested after officer-involved death


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ST. THOMAS - Little was said about the fatal officer-involved shooting that occurred Friday morning during the traffic stop of three suspects who appeared in court Monday morning for their advice of rights.

V.I. Police shot and killed 23-year-old O'Benson Antoine with a single shot Friday morning during a traffic stop after police received a tip from witnesses that an unlicensed firearm was in the vehicle, according to officer Mitsy Prescod, who was on the scene at the time.

In the vehicle with Antoine were his sister, Nellie Antoine, 19; Miguel Jerson, 20; and Shamal Gabriel, 31 - all of whom were arrested later in the day Friday.

Nellie Antoine and Gabriel were charged with constructive possession of an unlicensed firearm; trespassing; two counts of disturbance of the peace; and destruction of property.

Jerson was charged with third-degree assault; brandishing and exhibiting a firearm; unauthorized possession of an unlicensed vehicle; trespassing; and two counts of disturbance of the peace. Magistrate Carolyn Hermon-Percell dismissed the initial charge of reckless endangerment that Jerson faced.

Police arrested Nellie Antoine, Jerson and Gabriel mid-afternoon Friday, several hours after police first stopped the green Honda Civic that they were riding in with O'Benson Antoine on Cassi Hill, according to arrest records.

Police initially responded to an incident at 10:28 a.m. Friday, when they received word from 911 dispatchers that witnesses reported a disturbance - a fight - and a shot fired in the vicinity of Bobby's Towing Services in Anna's Retreat, according to the probable cause fact sheet.

Five witnesses at the tow business said that four individuals were in the vehicle - three men and one woman, who later were identified as the defendants and O'Benson Antoine.

The four individuals were there unannounced to retrieve a vehicle belonging to O'Benson Antoine that had been towed from Red Hook earlier, according to Prescod, who reviewed audio interviews with witnesses and the defendants.

Nellie Antoine got into a heated argument with one of the witness's family members, according to witness accounts to police, after which several fights broke out, Prescod said.

Prescod did not specify exactly what the fights were about or when they became physical.

During the fight, witnesses said that Jerson had a black handgun and that it went off during the fight. Based on witness accounts, Jerson shot himself in the leg, Prescod said.

In Jerson's account to police, he said that the handgun was in possession of one of the men on the property of the tow service, and he grabbed it from whomever shot it and then fled for his own safety with the Antoines and Gabriel.

Witnesses alerted police to the incident and gave a description of the vehicle that the four individuals were in, according to court documents.

Two officers then stopped the car off a road near Cassi Hill, after which Prescod and her partner arrived on the scene.

At the time, O'Benson Antoine was still alive, Prescod said.

However, court documents and testimony provided no information as to what occurred between the officers asking the vehicle's occupants to step outside of the vehicle and the shooting and death of O'Benson Antoine.

"There was a shooting," Prescod said in court. "It's being investigated."

While defense attorneys were not satisfied with Prescod's response, Hermon-Percell allowed it.

A prepared statement issued Saturday by V.I. Police Department spokeswoman Melody Rames said that O'Benson Antoine went back to the vehicle after he and the other occupants got out of it, and one or more of the officers spotted him reaching for a firearm.

"Antoine was fatally shot after police ordered him to stop and Antoine refused to comply. A 9 mm Glock semi-automatic pistol was recovered from the vehicle," Rames said.

Police Benevolent Association spokeswoman Davina Van Holten initially reported on Friday that all of the suspects had stepped out of the vehicle, and then O'Benson Antoine reached toward the vehicle and a firearm that was tucked in his clothes near his waist.

During a later search of the vehicle, Prescod spotted the black handgun in question behind the driver's seat, she said.

The description of events following the shooting indicated that Jerson was transported to the hospital to be treated for his gunshot wound, as was O'Benson Antoine, who was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Nellie Antoine, Jerson and Gabriel then were detained and arrested in the late afternoon the same day.

Attorneys for the defendants questioned the police account of the shooting, and asked why Prescod, who never spoke in person with any of the witnesses or the defendants, was the officer to testify.

Prescod said that the interviews were conducted by multiple detectives.

Attorneys also asked how the defendants could be charged with trespassing because it is commonplace for customers to retrieve their vehicles from a towing service property, which in this case also serves as a residence.

Overall, the charges were excessive and unfounded, the defendants' attorneys argued.

Hermon-Percell only dismissed one charge in the case, though she reduced the bail for all three defendants.

Nellie Antoine, who has had no prior arrests except a single dismissed charge, had her bail reduced from $25,000 to $15,000; Jerson, who also had no prior arrests, had his bail reduced from $75,000 to $25,000; and Gabriel, who has pending charges from March of driving under the influence and negligent driving, had his bail reduced from $35,000 to $15,000.

This is the fourth officer-involved shooting for the V.I. Police Department in three months. Two prior shootings were on St. Thomas, one was on St. Croix.

The shooting is the second fatal officer-involved shooting this year, the first of which occurred on April 26 during the opening of the Carnival Village.

Police shot Clyde Norford, 31, dead on the front steps of Fort Christian just after midnight during the celebration.

Antione's death is the territory's 24th homicide, including two vehicular homicides, in 2014.

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

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