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HomeNewsArchives'Silent' Protest Against Judge Kendall Draws Diverse Crowd, Approving Honks

'Silent' Protest Against Judge Kendall Draws Diverse Crowd, Approving Honks

April 23, 2007 — A cacophony of car horns spoke loudly for silent demonstrators Monday as dozens gathered to protest the rulings of V.I. Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall, which have allowed convicted criminals out on the street.
"We want to take a stand and make it known that this type of behavior is totally unacceptable," said organizer Maria Ferreras last week. "People keep asking me what we can do. People's hearts are broken."
A public outcry has arisen since Kendall released Daniel Castillo in March on his own recognizance pending trial on domestic-violence charges. Castillo, who has a record of violent criminal behavior, stands accused of killing 12-year-old La'Quina Hennis while he was free awaiting trial.
Castillo's release was the most egregious of Kendall's court decisions, but the judge has a long list of others that have allowed accused and convicted criminals loose on the streets, protesters say.
On Monday, Ferreras took action. Joining her were civic leaders, women's advocates, a few children, individual citizens, mothers, grandmothers, some fathers, teachers and groups that work to prevent domestic violence and uphold citizens' rights. The protesters formed at Emancipation Garden at noon and marched to the Farrelly Justice Complex, where they stood peacefully and silently — as mandated in the group's police permit — on either side of Veterans Drive waving their signs.
The protesters did speak, however, in two-word shouts of "thank you" to their long string of supporters honking down the road.
The Family Resource Center closed its office for the noon hour to participate. Community activist Stephanie Scott Williams carried a banner for the Women's Coalition of St. Croix because members were unable to participate.
The protest fell during National Crime Victims' Rights Week, April 22 to 28. From St. Croix came five sign-carrying members of the V.I. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council to show their support.
"We're here to support St. Thomas and St. John," said Lynn Gittens Spencer, the council's executive director. "We are expressing our concern. Crime victims do have rights. Kendall is forgetting the victim's rights. There is unequal handling of justice in his courtroom in domestic violence, sexual assault and other criminal cases. I'm happy St. Thomas and St. John spoke out, and I hope the governor notes the protest and hears the horns at Government House."
Almost every driver honked repeatedly, many giving a thumbs up. Many of the cars were taxi drivers, men and women, who loudly lent their support. One yelled, "It's about time someone did something! Keep it up!"
Holding a sign declaring, "Criminals in, Kendall Out," Ferreras pointed out her police permit for the silent, one-hour event on the other side of the sign, and she made certain that everyone dispersed at 1 p.m.
The turnout was large even though dark skies threatened, she said. "If the rain don't stop the Carnival, it don't stop the demonstration," she said earlier in the day. "My phones have been ringing all morning. Some folks in Red Hook were having traffic problems, but they're trying to get here through some flooding."
Ferreras made note of the diverse crowd of protesters: "It's a good cross-section of the community: children, elderly and men, too."
While she criticized Kendall, Ferreras said credit should go to the V.I. Police. "They catch the criminals, only to see them released on the street," she said. "I think our police do a good job. They receive a lot of abuse, then see these criminals let loose. It's very discouraging for them."
Holding a sign stating "Criminals In, Kendall Out," Evaristo Rios Jr., a father, said, "He's just as crazy as the criminals, and he should step down right now. That's all I have to say."
Three-year-old Hannah Wright held her own with a little smile and a big message: "Judge Kendall: Resign on Your Own Recognizance." Her father, Blayke Wright, said, "We are here for her. Protecting her is important."
Holding a sign promoting Victims' Rights week that read, "Every Victim, Every Time," Susan Chandler said, "I've never done a protest before, even growing up in the '60s and '70s. But this (Kendall's decisions) just isn't right. You have to stand up for what is right."
Many people approached Ferreras about what the next step will be. If they wanted to do something immediately, she encouraged them to write to Supreme Court justices suggesting Kendall be transferred to Traffic Court. Ferreras also spoke of another option, asking for action by the Judicial Disabilities Commission, which Gov. John deJongh Jr. spoke of Saturday at the annual meeting of the League of Women Voters.
League members explored the authority given to the territory's Judicial Disabilities Commission — a five-member body that has the ability to retire or remove a judge sitting on the V.I. Superior or Supreme courts. (See "Women Voters Make Judicial Reforms, Accountability Top Priority.")
At present, the commission has four sitting members and is chaired by Sen. Ronald E. Russell. Other members include attorney Andrew Capdeville, Robert O'Connor and local labor leader Luis "Tito" Morales. Since the death of St. Croix businessman Mario de Chabert in 2001, the commission has functioned without a full complement of members.
This will soon change, deJongh said during Saturday's meeting. "I have one appointment left to the Judicial Disabilities Commission," he said. "I have to do it, and then they will have a full board."
Residents concerned about Kendall are already beginning to act, Ferreras said: "Organizations and individuals are drafting complaints now to send to the commission."
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