Jan. 11, 2004 — Top Virgin Islands law enforcement officials fired back this weekend at claims by The Virgin Islands Daily News that new initiatives announced at a press conference Friday came as a result of the newspaper's Dec. 30, 44-page "special investigative report" on the use of deadly force by police officers over the past two decades.
Police Commissioner Elton Lewis said any suggestion that The Daily News report had anything to do with his department's latest efforts to root out violent crime was "a big fat lie."
In an open letter to The Daily News, faxed to the Source Sunday afternoon, Lewis wrote, "I do not make it a habit to respond to the numerous inaccuracies printed in your newspaper or elsewhere; however, I felt compelled to set the record straight regarding your blatant attempt to earn a Pulitzer Prize at the expense of the truth, the integrity of the Police Department and the intelligence of the people of the Virgin Islands." (See "Lewis: Press session not sparked by News report".)
Lewis added, "For you to imply that the press conference was in response to your article is ludicrous."
He pointed out that he has held many press conferences in the past to announce the goals, concerns and accomplishments of his department. "It is interesting that your paper now attempts to take credit for the fruits of the hard work put in by my staff and me, various federal agencies, the attorney general's office and the U.S. attorney's office," Lewis wrote. "I was astonished that the Daily News would attempt to take credit for the changes, upgrades and improvements that were discussed at the Jan. 9 press conference. The changes discussed … were in development for over six months."
Attorney General Iver Stridrion agreed with Lewis, saying the 44-page Daily News report, "absolutely did not" have anything to do with the new anti-crime measures being implemented. The new initiatives resulted from the recent and disturbing increase in violent crime, specifically the ambush style shooting of the father of a V.I. Police Officer, Stridrion said. (See St. Croix Source story "Police Identify Sunday Night Shooting Victim") Stridiron, calling the reporting on the press conference "shoddy," said The Daily News mischaracterized Friday's announcement of the appointment of Ray Martinez, former director of the Public Employees Relations Board, to the post of acting commissioner in charge of the Police Internal Affairs Bureau.
Martinez will replace Carlos Berkel, who recently retired. But, Stridiron said, The Daily News made it sound like Berkel was going out in disgrace because of the newspaper's report. In the coverage of the conference, the Daily News reporter wrote, "On Friday, Lewis said he has listened to the public outcry and felt that 'bringing a civilian on board would be a great asset.'"
Lewis told the Source Sunday, "Even before I accepted the position of commissioner I knew the Police Department has some ills; one of those challenges is in training." And he cited other areas, all of which he has vowed to address since accepting the job of commissioner last year.
Stridiron criticized the "spin" the newspaper had put on Martinez's appointment. "There has to be editorial honesty," Stridiron said. "There has to be integrity somewhere." Stridiron said The Daily News reports were not only inaccurate, but caused morale problems within the department. He said officers who saw the article were upset with Lewis because they incorrectly believed the department had only been spurred to action by the newspaper. "The community has been split asunder by this," Stridiron said.
U.S. Attorney David Nissman also said in a letter that he had been inaccurately quoted in The Daily News supplement. He said statements inaccurately attributed to him were potentially damaging to his relationship with Stridiron. He called one such quote on page 38 of the supplement "exactly the opposite" of what he told the reporter. The statement related to a federal takeover of homicide cases. (See "U.S. attorney refutes Daily News quote".)
Nissman, in a Dec. 30 letter to Daily News editor Lowe Davis, stated "I showed some of my senior staff the quote and they were horrified and felt that it would set back our relationship with the attorney general and cause distrust between the two offices." Nissman suggested in future he could "type up my answers to reporter's questions and e-mail them to the Daily News," if they wanted him to do so.
Sunday evening Davis said she had not received either letter and she could not comment on what she had not seen. She did say she had spoken to Nissman several times recently and he had never mentioned the letter.
Lewis said Sunday that as a public figure he expects criticism, but added "for God's sake, let it be truthful."
Click on the headline below for the Source story on Friday's press conference.
"Lewis: Police Pressure on to Fight Violent Crime"
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