Oct. 31, 2002 – In response to public concern over violent crime sweeping the territory in recent weeks, top law-enforcement officials issued a plea to the community Thursday to help provide leads to investigators.
They announced that a crime sweep early Wednesday morning involving 43 officers from various agencies resulted in the arrest of three people suspected of being involved in at least four of the 20 killings so far this year on St. Croix.
Meanwhile, a St. Thomas man was arrested on Tuesday evening and charged with murder in connection with the Labor Day weekend abduction and shooting death of 21-year-old Travis Poleon in downtown Charlotte Amalie.
The most recent homicide recorded in the territory, on Monday, was the 19th on St. Thomas this year and the 39th in the territory. The other 20 occurred on St. Croix.
As of Oct. 28 in the previous three years, the homicide figures were:
20 in 2001 – 10 on St. Thomas and 10 on St. Croix.
14 in 2000 – 8 on St. Thomas and 6 on St. Croix.
18 in 1999 – 11 on St. Thomas and 7 on St. Croix.
Wednesday's "Operation Sweep" on St. Croix was conducted with five search warrants. The three arrests were made at homes in Castle Burke, Walter I.M. Hodge Pavilion and William's Delight, according to Police Lt. Gregory Bennersen, chief of investigation on St. Croix.
The most widely publicized death recently was that of Chamonie Miller, a card dealer at the Divi Carina Bay Casino whose body was found in her submerged car at the bottom of Krause Lagoon near the Molasses Pier three days after her Aug. 5 disappearance. Police arrested her boyfriend, Kemo Boston, on Wednesday and until Thursday's press conference would not comment on the details of his apprehension.
According to Bennersen, autopsy reports, while inconclusive, suggest that Miller died of blunt-force trauma to the head. "It was difficult to determine an exact cause of death because of the condition her body was in when we found it," he said. No weapon has been found, he said.
Bennersen said Boston, who was charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and domestic violence, did not resist arrest and has not made a statement to police. He was arraigned in Territorial Court on Thursday morning, where bail was set at $500,000.
Assistance from the public was helpful in the case, Bennerson said. An investigation into whether there were accomplices is ongoing, he added, and police still need the community's support. "There was a huge reluctance by citizens to come forward, and this case could've been solved much more rapidly," he said. "We still have citizens out there who have further information."
Attorney General Iver Stridiron urged any accomplice to come forward. "If you don't, we'll find you and prosecute you not as an accomplice after the fact, but on murder charges," he said
Bennersen said the case has been classified as a domestic violence crime and no motive has been identified.
Also on Wednesday, two individuals were arrested in connection with killings in Campo Rico and Paradise Mills. Bennersen said Felix Cruz, 22, and a 16-year-old minor were charged initially with possession of an unlicensed firearm and stolen property. He said the three shooting deaths were "interconnected" and the investigation is ongoing.
He said police recovered a pistol and a revolver from their respective homes, and one of the weapons had been stolen during the burglary of a law-enforcement officer's home. He declined to say what agency the officer works for.
Jonathan Almestica, 19, was killed Sunday night by gunshots fired in the Campo Rico area. Four days earlier, 24-year-old Ricky Maxwell was shot and died in the Paradise Mills housing community. One week before that, Juan Julio Rivera, 19, was killed only a few feet away from where Maxwell fell.
On St. Thomas, Stridiron said, Gregory "Marv" Williams, 19, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and unlawful possession of a firearm in the death of Travis "Tupac" Poleon, 21. Authorities charge that on Sept. 1, Williams kidnapped Poleon, shot and beat him, and left him for dead.
Bennersen said police continue to get leads in other cases, and several investigations are very active. "At this point, we won't take any days off until some of these crimes are solved," he said. "The past couple of days we've been getting a good bit of information about interrelated homicides. We can solve these crimes."
But the law-enforcement officials stressed that public support is imperative in making the community safe. "The public should call, no matter how insignificant they think [a tip] might be," Police Commissioner Franz Christian said.
He noted that the Police Department has been allotted $100,000 to use as reward money for information leading to arrests and convictions. He said rewards depend on on the nature and quality of the information provided.
"We want the community to know everything we can do is being done locally and federally to stem the tide of violence we've had recently," Christian said.
Addressing rumors, U.S. Attorney David Nissman said the federal government has no plans to come to the territory and take over local crime-fighting efforts.
"You hear people say the federal government needs to come in and take over," Nissman said. "That's not going to happen. It's not a lack of good detectives; it's a lack of good information that's keeping those cases from being closed."
Another rumor addressed at the press conference was one that the governor intends to relieve Christian of his position as the territory's top police administrator. Christian said he would not respond to comments broadcast on Wednesday that he had been, or would be, fired.
But Stridiron said he and Gov. Charles W. Turnbull heard the rumor together, and the governor got visibly upset — but then joked about how he had heard of his own impending dismissal yearly when serving as Education commissioner.
"I can nip that one in the bud right now," Stridiron said.
Last November, Turnbull did fire the territory's then-chief of police, Jose Garcia, and then replace him with Novelle Francis, who had been deputy chief for the St. Croix district.
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