March 18, 2003 – Gov. Charles W. Turnbull announced on Tuesday afternoon that he had "accepted the resignation" of Police Commissioner Franz Christian, effective midnight Sunday.
And, a Government House release stated, Christian was placed on immediate administrative leave, with Assistant Commissioner Bruce Hamlin designated to serve as acting commissioner until 8 a.m. Monday.
Turnbull also named Elton Lewis, a retired police captain and former police chief, commissioner-designate. The release said the governor would send the Legislature his nomination of Lewis as the next police commissioner "within 24 hours with a call for a quick confirmation process."
The release did not cite any reasons for Christian's dismissal. It said the governor thanked him for "his dedication and service to the people of the territory" and "expressed his appreciation" for Christian's "willingness to serve in these trying times."
Trying times they've been, with a spate of drive-by shootings in the last few weeks, the most recent, according to authorities, leaving a 13-year-old girl paralyzed from the waist down. The territory recorded its highest homicide rate in history in 2002, with 44 killings. Arrests have been made in 17 of those cases.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said Tuesday night that he was "very surprised" at the governor's move and that he does not know Lewis. "We can only wonder in the current state of affairs whether this is a step backwards or forwards," Donastorg said.
He said he had not been aware of any indications that such a change would take place. Christian, along with several other police officials, testified on two successive days last week before Sen. Lorraine Berry's Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Committee. Fiscal constraints are the biggest challenge to the Police Department, according to all those who testified.
The Rules Committee, chaired by Sen. Roosevelt David, would first consider the governor's nomination of Lewis. It then would move to the full Senate. Neither David nor Berry was available for comment Tuesday evening.
With the replacement of the territory's top cop could come reorganization within the department, Police Chief Novelle Francis said. "I've been around long enough to know that with every new boss there is usually reorganization," he said, adding that he has not been apprised of any details in that regard. He said he does not know why Christian was dismissed and was told only that he had been replaced.
Francis said he is not concerned about Lewis's ability to run the Police Department, describing him as a "stickler for details."
Lewis, according to the Government House release, has served in the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, was a security specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, served in the Defense Department and has taught police science and administration at the University of the Virgin Islands. He holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in the V.I. National Guard and was project officer for its "weapons of mass destruction program" in 1999-2000.
A Police Department veteran, he served as police chief in 1995-1998 and earlier was chief of detectives and director of special investigations.
"Lewis's strong commitment to public service in the area of law enforcement and the military, in addition to his years of experience with the VIPD, will enable him to hit the ground running and immediately tackle the issues surrounding crime and security in the territory," Turnbull said in the release.
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