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Recent Crimes Casting a Pall Over St. John

Nov. 14, 2005 – The unease that seems to permeate St. John began Aug. 30, when resident Esther Frett reported she was raped. It grew further Oct. 29 when David Geiger was murdered.
Neither incident has been solved. That fact, coupled with a rash of other crimes, has cast a pall over St. John.
"I'm not necessarily over-worried, but I am a little worried," St. John Administrator Julien Harley said.
Frett's reported rape sparked a rally on Oct. 1 and subsequent sit-ins at St. John restaurants.
A look at St. John's police blotter for the past month reported two armed robberies – one on Nov. 6 at Island Blues in Coral Bay and the other on Nov. 5 at Orchid Villa in Klein Bay.
Additionally, one man reported on Oct. 21 he was shot three times during an attempted burglary at his Susannaberg home.
There were also 18 burglaries reported. Beth Knight was one of those burglary victims.
She said that on Nov. 7, someone ransacked her house, stealing jewelry that was handed down through her family as well as other items.
"The jewelry was very important to me," Knight said.
She said she's offering a no-questions-asked reward for the return of her stolen items. She declined to disclose the reward amount. Anyone with information about her belongings can reach her at 776-6595.
Police Commissioner Elton Lewis said that he thinks the burglaries and armed robberies are connected, but Frett's alleged rape and the Geiger murder are both separate incidents unrelated to other crimes.
While he couldn't comment on the alleged rape because it is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he said that the V.I. Police Department has made significant progress in the Geiger case.
"I am optimistic we will solve this case," he said.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest, prosecution and conviction of those responsible for the Sept. 2 fire that damaged the Close Reach Imports store in Cruz Bay. A press release from the agency indicates the fire caused $200,000 worth of damage. The store remains closed.
"We're looking to generate some leads," ATF special agent Jay Quabius said. He said the agency got a couple of tips over the weekend that his office is currently investigating.
Close Reach Imports is owned by Bob Sells, who was arrested June 5 for allegedly assaulting Frett. She operated her House of Dolls store upstairs from Close Reach Imports at Meada's Mall. Sells arrest case is pending.
If you have information on the fire, call the U.S. Marshal's tip line at 773-5393 or the ATF office at 693-2237.
Lewis said that staffing shortfalls continue to be an issue. He said it caused the Coral Bay substation to close once since it opened in mid-October.
"But I do the best I can with the resources available to me," he said.
He said the Police Department needs more funding in order to put more police officers on duty.
Harley said it looks bad that the police department has a slew of new police cars parked in front of the Cruz Bay police station, but not enough police officers on duty.
"They need to bolster them as soon as possible," he said.
Residents reported mixed feelings on the current crime and unrest.
"No, I'm not afraid to live here, but I'm disappointed in St. Johnians who choose to be divided on racial issues," said resident John Fuller.
And, he said that he doesn't trust the police and dislikes what he sees as the surly attitude of some police officers.
"I think they are badly trained," he said.
However, he said should he become a crime victim, he would be sure to call the police because he would need the report for insurance purposes.
"And I would hope they would rise above past performances," he said.
Lewis said that he's well aware of the public's lack of trust in the police and has been working on the issue.
"They had more training in the last year than they had in the last 15 years of the department," Lewis said, noting that some of the training includes customer service.
He said that if residents feel they have been treated in an unprofessional manner by a police officer, they should contact Ray Martinez, of the V.I. Police Department Internal Affairs section. The number is 774-2452.
Lewis also noted that St. John has experienced waves of crime, including violent crime, before.
"It comes in spurts," he said. "We're going to continue to have them."
Resident Catherine Fahy said she is more nervous than she used to be because of the murder, the robberies and the racial tension.
"Now, I'm being a lot more watchful," she said.
Alarmed at the continuing unrest and rumors surrounding Frett's alleged rape, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) national director Roy Innis said he will put pressure on federal and local law enforcement officials to release information.
"There is not enough accurate information flowing from the authorities," Innis said.
He said that if the facts are on the table, the racial paranoia that surrounds the case will be removed.
The St. Croix-born Innis said he was in the territory to attend a cousin's funeral when he heard about the situation. He said some of the rumors he heard, especially that Frett had died, were far from what little information is known about the matter.
"Of course she didn't die," Innis said.
He said the situation may be similar to the 1987 Tawana Brawley case in which the 15-year-old woman was found smeared with dog feces and racial slurs written in charcoal. She claimed that at least two and possibly six white law enforcement officers had raped her. The Rev. Al Sharpton championed her cause. Innis said his investigation determined the case was a hoax six months before a 1988 grand jury found that Brawley fabricated the incident.
Innis was surprised to learn about the restaurant sit-ins that continued for several weekends after an Oct. 1 rally spearheaded by St. Croix radical radio personality Mario Moorhead. He suggested that the protesters sit in at places where officials are likely to come up with answers – the police station and the Federal Bureau of Investigation office – not restaurants.
Innis also nixed any thought of the Ku Klux Klan infiltrating St. John, a rumor that's gone around since the Fretts reported in June that someone wrote racial epithets on their car parked at their East End home. It was reported as a hate crime.
He said members of that organization set up shop in places where they get support from the white-dominated police forces and courts.
"They're not about to come to a place where there's a black infrastructure," he said.
He called on St. John residents from all segments of the community to come together on the issue. And he offered to speak to any group that invites him.
CORE first organized in 1942 to protest segregation in public housing. It hit its stride as the Civil Rights Movement gained strength in the 1950s and 1960s. He left St. Croix for New York in 1946, joining CORE's Harlem chapter in 1963. Innis took over as director in 1968.

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