As police work to make V.I. streets safer and arrest those responsible for recent St. Croix murders, police will pursue federal charges whenever possible, Gov. Albert Bryan said at a Frederiksted press conference Tuesday.
“We really want to assure the public that the V.I. Police Department, that law enforcement and the Office of the Governor are working together to solve and address the state of crime in the community,” Bryan said.
Acting Police Commissioner Jason Marsh gave a status report on the several homicides since the beginning of the year:
–Joseph Brow, 34 was, shot and killed Jan. 1 near Coconut Bar in Frederiksted. Police have arrested Khalil Wilson and are looking for 27-year-old Jahkim Santiago – 5 feet, 11 inches tall, weight about 165 pounds, long brown hair, brown eyes, light facial hair and light complexion.
–Kailash Banani, 49. was shot and killed Jan. 4 in the Mount Welcome area of St. Croix, near Mahogany Welcome Apartments.
– 17-year-old Jurvelle Marquell Felixien, shot and killed by shooters driving a car while he rode his bicycle in Estate Whim on Jan. 8. Marsh said the case may be connected to another homicide and more details will be forthcoming when they can be revealed without jeopardizing the investigation.
– Allan Joseph, 30, allegedly shot by brother Jamal Joseph Jan. 12 while in front of their home in Estate Whim. Jamal Joseph has been arrested.
– Juana Mateo Perez, 42, shot by a gunman as she worked as a bartender at the Peace and Love Bar in Christiansted on Jan. 17. The gunman appears to have come in with the intent of killing Perez, not robbing the place, Marsh said.
St. Croix Police Chief Edmond Walters said police are responding with high visibility patrols, visiting “hot spots” and making contact with the people who frequent them, along with walk-throughs of public housing communities.
Walters also said they are checking on night clubs and large, high-visibility events and gatherings. He said police are working to ensure clubs and events close down on time and patrons are able to safely leave the area.
Marsh said the department is working with federal law enforcement and whenever possible federal charges will be brought.
Bryan emphasized the same point when asked what he was doing differently.
“The one major change is we have more arrests we are turning over to our federal partners,” Bryan said. “It is good business in terms of getting people off the streets immediately. It is good business in terms of us having to spend less resources on putting them in jail, finding them a public defender and keeping them in jail,” Bryan said, adding that they had discussions with federal law enforcement about this.
With Marsh working as commissioner in an acting capacity, Bryan said he would nominate a permanent commissioner within 90 days.
While the five murders so far in the first month of the year are horrific and tragic, they are not unusual.
In 2018, there had been one homicide at this point. But that was the aberration. January saw six V.I. murders in 2017; six in 2016, five in 2015; five in 2014, two in 2013, six in 2012, seven in 2011, six in 2010 and five in January of 2009. More than 800 Virgin Islanders have been murdered since the Source was founded in 1999, at an average rate of around 40 per year. The years from 2009 through 2012 were the bloodiest on record, peaking in 2010 with 59 murders. These rates place the territory consistently among the most violent jurisdictions in the country.
Importantly, for a tourism-fueled economy, robbery murders are uncommon and tourists are very rarely targeted.
A 2014 V.I. Source study found that over time St. Thomas and St. Croix levels of violence are about even, with year to year variations making one or the other seem worse.
Most V.I. murders have no clear motive, but when a cause or motive is known it is usually back and forth retaliation between groups of young men. The average victim is a 27-year old male, shot down by a group of young men in a car, for no apparent reason.