While the Friday night, November 30, raids on several Cruz Bay businesses were portrayed in rosy colors by the V.I. Police Department, at least one tourist painted a much darker picture.
Kristi Latcham, a blonde, 6-foot-tall, 49-year-old from Texas, has been visiting St. John with friends for the last 10 years. But this trip marked the first time she suffered abuse at the hands of the VIPD when she ended up in the crosshairs of a task force operation in Cruz Bay.
The group of friends always rents a villa and one of their annual adventures is a day sail with Captain Phil aboard Wayward Sailor followed by dinner from Uncle Joe’s barbecue, Latcham explained.
Usually Home by Dark
“I’ve been coming down there every year for 10 years for at least two weeks, and sometimes longer,” said Latcham. “I come with a group of female friends and we just hike, snorkel and sail and we are usually back at our house by dark. But one thing we always do is eat at Uncle Joe’s barbecue after we go sailing on Wayward Sailor.”
Latcham and one friend spent November 30 aboard Wayward Sailor and walked over to Uncle Joe’s barbecue for the traditional post-sail dinner. There was a crowd at the popular local eatery and Latcham and her friend spotted two empty seats outside of Cap’s Place just across the street, the Texas tourist explained.
“Looking back we made a bad decision, but it was really busy at Joe’s and were told it would take 30 minutes before our food was ready,” said Latcham. “My friend had a heavy dive bag and we spotted two open stools outside of Cap’s Place right on the street. We took the stools and my friend put our dive bag down and I put my backpack on the bar and we ordered two Red Stripes.”
Thrown from Stool
The Texas friends, however, would not get the chance to finish their Jamaican beers.
“We were about a fourth of the way through our Red Stripes, just sitting there laughing about our day and the next thing I know someone — who never identified themselves to me as a police officer — grabbed me from behind and dragged me off the bar stool,” Latcham said.
“He had me by my arm and I have a black and blue hand print from it still,” continued Latcham. “He physically threw me to the floor and all I can see is this large man dressed all in black and I didn’t know what was going on. I was scared to death.”
Fearing for her life, Latcham did not know that the man was a law enforcement official.
“I thought I was going to be robbed or assaulted or raped,” said the tourist. “I thought I was going to die. I honestly didn’t understand the situation.”
Despite her fear, Latcham’s natural instincts kicked in.
Thrown Again and Pepper Sprayed
“We had just gone to the ATM earlier and I knew that my bag had money in it and my friend’s and my identification cards,” she said. “My instinct was to get up off the floor and get my bag.”
Although Latcham tried to stand up, she didn’t make it far when the situation grew even worse.
“I went to go get my bag, but the man took me again and threw me to the floor,” said Latcham. “At that point he pepper sprayed the place and someone yelled, ‘it’s the police.’ That is the first I knew it was a police operation.”
“No one identified themselves or showed badges or anything,” the tourist continued. “Then we got pepper sprayed again and I’m asthmatic and could barely breathe.”
Law enforcement officials had all Cap’s Place patrons get on their knees and line up along the bar, Latcham explained.
“My friend got lined up in the back with everyone else and I was toward the front,” she said. “We were all on our knees and the cop who threw me down was standing right over me. He threw my bag at me and yelled, ‘everyone better have their IDs.’”
“I took my ID and my friend’s ID out of my bag and held them up in the air,” Latcham continued. “I don’t know how long it was, but it was quite some time we were down on our knees.”
Although she was soon to get out of the ordeal, the experience — and bruises — at the hands of the task force, would last longer, Latcham explained.
“The guy who threw me down to the ground twice realized he had messed up and he pointed at me and said, ‘go over there,’” she said. “I pointed out my friend and we went to the other entrance to Cap’s Place where there was a female officer. I wanted to know what the hell happened and she asked me if I wanted to go to jail.”
Cut Vacation Short
“We showed her our IDs and ran out of there,” Latcham continued. “We were supposed to stay for another week, but we left two days later. I’m sore and I have bruises you couldn’t even imagine.”
Latcham took pictures of her injuries and was lucky to get back to her rental villa before experiencing an anxiety attack.
“I had a full blown anxiety attack when I got back to my villa and I was lucky to be there because my medication was nearby,” said Latcham. “I was in shock for a while and then it sunk in and really affected me.”
While Latcham has long loved St. John, this recent trip will probably be her last.
“I have cried so much,” said the Texas tourist. “At this point I don’t know if I can ever go back down there. I still can’t believe the cops never said who they were or what they were doing.”
As Latcham heals her physical and psychological wounds, she plans to contact Governor John deJongh, the Attorney General’s Office of the Virgin Islands, Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen, the V.I. Police Department and her attorney.
“You can be assured I will be telling my story,” she said.
VIPD St. John Deputy Chief Darren Foy said he was not at Cap’s Place the night of the task force operation, but did hear of the pepper spray incident.
“I think that one of the officers had a struggle with a patron in Cap’s Place and he used his pepper spray,” Foy said. “I wasn’t there at the time.”