A fight between two police officers in St. Thomas resulted in accusations of an unsafe and hostile work environment at the Richard Callwood Command Police Station — a situation a police union feared could escalate to gunfire. Police Commissioner Ray Martinez said Friday the scuffle and aftermath were under internal review.
The Policeman’s Benevolent Association — a union representing police officers, detectives, and corporals — filed a grievance alleging the Virgin Islands Police Department failed to follow its own policies by not putting the two feuding officers on administrative leave and quickly reporting what happened to the union. The grievance also alleges the acting director of internal affairs is a close friend of one of the fighting officers and would be incapable of being a fair and impartial investigator of the matter.
Martinez said VIPD supervisors and the union have to “agree to disagree” on some issues.
“I have the utmost confidence in my internal affairs bureau. At the end of the day, they are doing what needs to be done,” Martinez said. “We’re here to ensure that all of our officers are safe. We’re going to continue to ensure that, but we’re also going to follow due process.”
The Aug. 31 fight was caught by three security cameras at the police station, the grievance said. Both officers filed police reports — one alleging felony assault and the other misdemeanor assault. One of the officers said the fight included a strangulation from behind and was treated at Roy Lester Schneider Hospital.
The union complaint was blunt about the seriousness of the matter.
“These officers are armed with firearms, and the safety of all members are currently in jeopardy. If anything is to escalate further due to the negligence and failure of the Department to take the necessary actions in lieu of this matter, the union will hold the Virgin Islands Police Department liable and responsible for failure to safeguard its police officers,” the grievance drafted Tuesday reads.
The complaint seeks four remedies: The officers be put on administrative leave, they both undergo evaluation to see if they are fit for duty, the Department follow its policies and procedures for dealing with these cases, and that the acting director of Internal Affairs recuse herself from the matter.
The complaint continues: “Officers’ health and safety should be paramount and treated as high priority by the Virgin Islands Police Department and not treated selectively due to friendship, relation, and social affiliation. Policy rules apply to everyone.”
The grievance arrived at the commissioner’s office just before 4 p.m. Wednesday. Around 8 p.m. Thursday, the Policeman’s Benevolent Association President Hadiya Casimir sent it to the territory’s various press outlets.
Martinez took issue with not being allowed to respond before the issue was made public.
“Let’s take sense from nonsense, OK? The union filed a grievance on Wednesday afternoon. By Thursday evening, they’re sending the grievance and everything attached to it to the media,” Martinez. “There’s more to this than is being let on to by the union.”
The commissioner said he would know if the fight needed to be reported as a use-of-force incident covered by a federal consent decree after the Internal Affairs Unit investigation was complete.