Gov. John deJongh Jr. hosted a meeting Friday with senators and officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Virgin Islands law enforcement to discuss his administration’s efforts to restore the ATF’s presence in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones, Deputy Director Thomas Brandon and Special Agent Trevor Velinor were invited by the governor to answer technical questions about granting peace officer status to federal law enforcement agents in the territory and to discuss the bureau’s role of ATF in the region. De Jongh urged senators to adopt such a bill in their next session.
“The proposed bill is an extremely important tool to confront gangs, violent crime, and gun violence in our territory, deJongh said in a statement released after the meeting. “We need that extra push to get guns out of the hands of criminals, and the ATF has tremendous capabilities and resources available to help us do that. We need them as partners. I thank Director Jones and his senior leadership team for coming to the Virgin Islands and committing to the return of the ATF to work with the VIPD to combat our violent crime problem. He recognizes that they have an ongoing responsibility to us as U.S. citizens. The ATF last had a permanent presence in the Virgin Islands four years ago.”
As currently drafted, the administration’s proposal would grant all federal agents peace officer status in the Virgin Islands, giving them authority to enforce certain V.I. laws pursuant to the Virgin Islands Code and provide the protections that come with that authority.
Friday’s meeting was also attended by Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis, V.I. Police Commissioner Henry White, acting Attorney General Wayne Anderson, Chief of Staff Pamela Berkowsky and Senators Ronald Russell, Sammuel Sanes, Alvin Williams, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Terrence Nelson, Patrick Simeon Sprauve and Carlton Dowe. The lawmakers were given the opportunity to ask ATF officials technical questions regarding the legislation and voice their concerns.
DeJongh has held several meetings over the past year with ATF officials both in Washington D.C. and in the territory to facilitate ATF’s return to the Virgin Islands. The return of ATF agents would boost law enforcement’s ability to trace illegal firearms and get them off the streets of the Virgin Islands, according to the statement released from Government House.
The U.S. Virgin Islands is one of only 14 jurisdictions in the United States that deny peace officer status to federal agents.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives worked in the territory until 2009. Its departure was triggered, according to reports at the time, by the resistance its shooting team investigators reportedly encountered from local law enforcement when they arrived to investigate a shooting involving ATF Officer William Clark, who had intervened in a domestic violence situation at Mahogany Run involving a resident and his girlfriend. Clark was was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Marcus Sukow. He was acquitted on a technicality during his October 2010 trial, but the case became and continues to be a point of contention between federal law-enforcement agencies and the territory.