A Virgin Islands Police officer was arrested Wednesday and charged with involuntary manslaughter for the shooting death of Kendall Petersen Jr. during a police raid in January.
Attorney General Vincent F. Frazer said Wednesday that Officer David Stephens Jr. was arrested for involuntary manslaughter and other related charges in connection with the Jan. 5 shooting.
Stephens, along with several other members of a law enforcement search team, were in the process of executing a search warrant during the early morning hours at Petersen’s house in Frederiksted.
Stephens, a police officer based on St. Croix, turned himself in upon learning that a warrant was recently issued for his arrest, according to the attorney general. Stephens was advised of his rights and arraigned by Superior Court Magistrate Jessica Gallivan.
Officer Stephens’ bail was set at $50,000. Upon meeting bail conditions, he was released into the custody of a relative.
Frazer said the V.I. Justice Department determined, based upon a careful review of all the facts and circumstances surrounding the execution of the search warrant of Petersen’s home, that Stephens improperly discharged his police-issued service weapon, killing Petersen.
At the time of the shooting, police reported the search began around 6:30 a.m. as part of a murder investigation. According to police, Petersen was seen with a firearm, ran around a corner, came back and advanced on police.
After ignoring several orders to stop, he was shot in the upper body, police said. A semi-automatic hand gun was recovered from the rear of the building, though the police report did not say Petersen was armed at the time he was shot. About three pounds of marijuana and a "large amount of cash" was also taken from the home by police.
At a press conference and rally days after the incident, the family of the slain man took issue with several of those statements. According to the victim's father, community activist Kendal "Seigo" Petersen, a member of the Fifth Constitutional Convention and twice a candidate for the V.I. Senate, the search actually began at 5 a.m. His son was in bed sleeping with his wife when the police burst in, the father said.
Attorney Martial Webster, who accompanied the elder Petersen during the conference, said he had interviewed several of the people who had their homes searched on the morning of Jan. 5 and that all told him police burst into their homes without knocking or announcing who they were.
"Everyone we spoke to said police came into their homes in the middle of the night, wearing masks and without knocking or announcing their presence or purpose," he said.
There are exceptions when police may enter without announcing first, but the exception must be justified in the request for the warrant and must be specified on the warrant itself. The warrants made no mention of not requiring a knock, Webster said.
According to the victim's father, the gun was found in a neighboring yard, not in his son's yard. activist Kendal Petersen led media to the scene and pointed around the corner of the back of the house where he said the weapon was found.
At the time of the incident, Officer Stephens was assigned to the VIPD’s Special Operations Bureau. Police Commissioner Henry White Jr. was briefed of the findings by the attorney general’s office prior to Stephen's arrest.
Police officials confirmed Thursday that Stephens has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings against him.