Tourists Felt “Robbed at Gunpoint” By VIPD

Dear Commissioner McCall:

This letter was originally addressed to Angelo Hill, who I had been incorrectly told was the Police Commissioner. That letter, dated February 15, 2007, was returned unopened by the post office as “insufficient address.” The St. John Tradewinds gave me your name and address. Thank you for hearing our concerns.

This is a report of a disturbing event that happened to my wife and I as we were departing from St. John after a delightful 8-day vacation at Cinnamon Bay.

On Friday, February 9, 2007, at about 10:45 a.m., we drove our car, rented from Hospitality Rent a Car of Cruz Bay, St John, to the ferry landing to drop off our luggage before returning our rental car. We had four heavy bags, and my wife is recovering from a sprained ankle. We are both in our 60s. Time was tight as we had an 11:15 ferry to catch to reach the airport in St. Thomas in time for our flight home.

Traffic was very heavy at the ferry landing, with some cars double and triple parked to unload and obstructing traffic. Not wanting to tie up traffic even more, we pulled into a parking slot that was just then being vacated. We did notice a sign indicating that it was a handicapped parking spot but we had no intention of parking, just unloading the luggage. I left the motor running and quickly unloaded our four bags and my wife got out to stay with the luggage. This whole process took less than one minute.

Before I could get back in the car to leave, a policewoman, who must have been watching us, positioned her cruiser in back of our car so we could not leave. She pointed to the handicap parking sign and told us we were parking there in violation, and proceeded to write out a $1,000 parking ticket. She refused to listen to our explanation of the circumstances or to acknowledge that we were just unloading and had been there less than a minute and would have been out of the space had she not blocked us in. She said she had “no choice” but to ticket us for $1,000, no matter what the circumstances or explanations. She filled out the ticket in duplicate and gave me a single copy, with no further instructions.  She then allowed me to move the car and return it to the Hospitality Rent a Car agency, which was around the block, across from the Post Office.

I drove to the rental agency and was in the process of turning over the keys when the policewoman drove up and engaged in a five-minute, private conversation with the agent, whose name was Thomas. Thomas returned and told me that he would have to put a $1,000 charge on my credit card. He said that if I did not sign it I would be arrested as soon as I tried to get on the ferry. With just 10 minutes to departure, I felt I had no choice but to sign the credit charge slip, which was made out to the Hospitality Rent a Car St. John, as a charge for “car rental,” $1,000. This charge has now been posted to my account.  

Thomas said he needed my copy of the parking ticket and my rental car agreement, which I gave to him. These were my only documentation for the car rental and the parking citation. My anxiety over missing the ferry and stress from the incident may have distracted me from getting copies of these documents. I also failed to get the name and the badge number of the policewoman.

I returned to the ferry landing, and my wife and I were just able to purchase our tickets, get our luggage loaded, and board the ferry before it left at 11:15 on schedule.

This incident was extremely stressful and painful for my wife and me, especially coming at the very end of an otherwise wonderful and relaxing vacation at Cinnamon Bay. We feel that what we did in unloading our luggage was innocent and reasonable under the circumstances and certainly no violation of the spirit of a law that reserves parking spaces for the handicapped.  

The policewoman could easily have asked us to move the car (which was our intention anyhow) and the handicap parking space would have been empty. The law was enforced with inflexibility, arbitrariness, and no attempt to understand or acknowledge the mitigating circumstances. Moreover, the amount of the fine, $1,000 is absurdly excessive relative to the scale of the infraction. The conditions under which this took place were intimidating and stressful in the extreme.  

The experience produced for my wife and me a level of personal anxiety and distress akin to being robbed at gunpoint. It leaves a very bitter taste about coming to St. John. We are sure this kind of experience is damaging to the reputation of St. John as a tourist destination, and not in the best interest of the community and its tourism-based economy.

We are also concerned that we have no documentation for this incident, and no way of expressing our concerns and objections relative to this citation to the relevant jurisdiction. We have no assurance that the fine has been received by the jurisdiction and that our obligations to the jurisdiction related to the ticket have been fully met.

We ask that our dispute of this citation be acknowledged, and hope that when the facts are considered the fine will be rescinded, and our $1,000 returned. We hope you are the correct person to address and act on these concerns. If we should be addressing these concerns to some other authority, please redirect this letter accordingly or advise us on how to proceed.

Thank you for hearing and responding to our concerns.

Donald E. Stone
Janee Stone