Dec. 19, 2002 – The V.I. Justice Department will not prosecute any of the police officers involved in a total of five shooting deaths in a little more than three years, including that of a naked, unarmed man killed on a public beach in broad daylight, Attorney General Iver Stridiron said on Thursday at press briefing.
Stridiron recommended, however, that the Police Department bring administrative charges against one St. Croix policeman, Sgt. Ricky Hernandez.
Death of Kerby Charles
After having been placed on administrative leave, Hernandez recently returned to active duty. Stridiron said he has recommend disciplinary action because of what he called negligence and violations of standard police procedures during the incident last Jan. 24 in which Kerby Charles was fatally shot during a struggle with Hernandez.
Stridiron said Hernandez told authorities that he was at home around 2 p.m. when his barking dogs alerted him that someone was trespassing on his Estate Whim property on St. Croix, and he picked up his service weapon and went outside to investigate. He saw Charles, gave chase and caught up with him. In the fight over the gun that ensued, the weapon discharged, killing Charles.
"Kerby Charles died because he grabbled Sgt. Hernandez' weapon and struggled to gain control of it but was instead shot," Stridiron said. "But he also died because on that fatal day, Sgt. Hernandez failed to follow basic police procedures and abandoned his common sense in dealing with Mr. Charles."
Hernandez had spotted Charles crouched near the family car. "He then remembered he kept his personal weapon in the car and the car was unlocked," Stridiron said. "That was, as far as I'm concerned, his first act of negligence and, in my personal opinion, stupidity."
Stridiron also said Hernandez should have called for police assistance while keeping Charles under observation from his home, and that he violated tactical procedures by approaching the man at arm's length while holding the gun and trying to force him to the ground. Officers are trained not to let their subject get close enough to lunge for their weapon, he said, and "this man is a police sergeant who should have known better."
Death of Terrance Heywood
In the St. Croix beach case, Stridiron said the fatal shooting of Terrance Heywood by Officer Alfredo Cruz on April 26 was justified homicide.
Cruz encountered Heywood after responding to a report of a naked man swimming at Dorsch Beach south of Frederiksted. Cruz called out to Heywood and ordered him to put on some clothes, Stridiron said, but Heywood came up to the officer and challenged his authority. Cruz tried to back away and found himself on the ground as Heywood advanced; the policeman, drew his gun warning the man to stay away and then fired several times, killing Heywood.
Stridiron said he determined that Cruz conducted himself in a prudent manner and that Heywood's death was a justifiable homicide. "The death of Terrance Heywood resulted from his failure to obey a lawful order by a police officer and his assault upon the police officer, who was caused to discharge his weapon to fend off the assault," Stridiron said.
"Heywood's death was not caused by simple or gross negligence, nor was it attended with depraved indifference to his life by Officer Cruz," he said. The actions taken, Stridiron said, were "consistent with his duty to protect himself from bodily harm."
Later Thursday, one of Heywood's relatives challenged Stridiron's justification. Speaking on Isle 95 radio, Paul Payne said the only ruling that would satisfy him would be an announcement of criminal charges against the officer. The family has hired a lawyer to pursue the matter, he said.
"Any time you delay justice, you deny justice, and any time you delay the truth, you deny the truth," Payne said. "The problem happened and … we will continue fighting."
Death of David Eric Medina Diaz
Stridiron also rule as justifiable homicide the shooting death of David Eric Medina Diaz by Officer Roger Roberts near the Kingshill cemetery on St. Croix on Sept. 28, 2001.
Roberts and other officers were responding to a report of gunshots in the Estate La Reine area, the attorney general said, and someone pointed Medina Diaz out to Roberts as the person seen fleeing the area. Roberts chased and caught Medina Diaz, and in the struggle that ensued, the policeman shot the victim in the right chest.
Stridiron said Roberts "acted in a manner which was consistent with his duty to apprehend and arrest perceived lawbreakers and to protect his own life."
Deaths of Samuel James and Alfredo Barrett
Police officers also will not be prosecuted in the Dec. 28, 2000, shooting death of Samuel James in his Oswald Harris Court apartment on St. Thomas and the Nov. 7, 1999, death of Alfredo Barrett near the Red Hook ferry dock, also on St. Thomas, Stridiron said. Both individuals were mentally ill patients, he said.
When police responded to a report from James's girlfriend that he had attacked her, James went after the officers with a machete, Stridiron said.
Barrett was fighting with another man when Officer Bill Jn. Baptiste came on the scene. Apparently Barrett had a weapon, which Jn. Baptiste ordered him to drop, Stridiron said. When Barrett failed to drop the weapon and attempted to grab the officer's gun, he was shot seven times and died at the scene. "We do not believe it would be appropriate to charge Mr. Jn. Baptiste in this particular case," Stridiron said.
Cruise ship death
In a case unrelated to the police homicides, Stridiron also announced his decision not to prosecute anyone in connection with the death of O'Neil Persaud on board the cruise ship Adventure of the Sea. The death was reported to local authorities when the ship was berthed at the West Indian Co. dock on St. Thomas last July 20. For a report on that case, see the St. Thomas Source story "Stridiron rules cruise ship death accidental".
Publisher's note : Like the St. Croix Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.