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Shooting: 'They're Turning St. Thomas Into Dodge City'

March 26, 2009 — With just four shots from a .38-special, the continuing turf war between two St. Thomas neighborhoods was unleashed Wednesday on a packed safari van traveling near the Fort Mylner shopping center.
At 4:20 p.m., at an intersection crowded with commuters, 19-year-old Omar Benjamin — a passenger — jumped from the bus and fired at it before running behind the nearby Allied Rental Building. His apparent target, 21-year-old Anselmo Farrington, attempted to fire back, but his gun jammed. Farrington, who later implied Benjamin would be dead if the gun had fired, got off the bus and headed in the opposite direction.
As the two fled in opposite directions, 911 was flooded with calls. Police Officer Jose Allen and another officer, who were just minutes away at Western Auto, rushed to the scene, where someone pointed to the building behind which Benjamin had disappeared. At that point, Farrington hadn't made it any further than the stoplight in front of FirstBank Plaza, about a block away.
Another call came into 911 and Farrington was picked up just minutes later. His pants were a trove of illegal treasures: his pockets held an empty magazine clip, dime bags and more than $100 in cash, while his waistband held a loaded gun. For the time being, Benjamin had escaped.
Less than 24-hours later, Officer Allen recounted the rest of the tale at Benjamin and Farrington's advice of rights hearing. He said Farrington had told him that someone had fired shots at him.
"He said if his gun didn't jam, he would have emptied it all on him," Allen said.
Benjamin, who showed up at the station a little while later, told a different story, claiming to be the victim in the incident.
However, Allen said Thursday that when Benjamin was asked whether he had fired the shots, Benjamin said, "I'm not going to lie to you, I had a gun."
"I said where is it? He pulled up his shirt, and tucked into his pants was the gun," Allen said.
The gun was analyzed. It had four spent casings and two live rounds in it. Benjamin was swabbed. The tests came up positive for gun residue. A witness at the scene, who showed up later at the police station, also identified Benjamin as the shooter.
Both guns had been reported stolen, Allen said.
The two men had been arrested Wednesday and charged with, among other things, possession of an unlicensed firearm, the unlawful discharge of an unlicensed firearm during the commission of a crime of violence and reckless endangerment. (See "Police Charge Two in Safari Bus Shooting.")
At the time, bail was set at $35,000 for each of them. When Assistant Attorney General Claude Walker recommended Thursday that the amount be increased to $1 million, gasps were audible in the courtroom.
"Your honor, you know I'm going to say that's ridiculous," defense attorney Richard Leycock said, throwing his hands up in the air. "It's outrageous."
Both Benjamin and Farrington were first offenders, he added, suggesting that home confinement and an unsecured bond could be substituted for the $1 million bail.
Walker said the safety of the community was the real concern. Recurring shootouts in broad daylight, in crowded streets were becoming a bad habit. The two men didn't care that somebody could have been killed in the midst of the fight, he said.
"They're turning St. Thomas into Dodge City."
Thursday, sitting on opposite benches, flanked by corrections officers, Farrington scowled at Benjamin, whose steady gaze gave away no emotion. And when the judge found probable cause later to uphold the charges against them, the two were advised of their rights, separately, unable to sit next to one another at the defense table.
V.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Dunstan said it might be a good idea if the two cooled down in jail. He upheld the $35,000 bail, which so far, neither Farrington nor Benjamin has been able to post. Dunstan went on to say he would only consider releasing them into the hands of a responsible third-party custodian, who could keep them at home and away from each other, he said.
Police believe the shooting could be the latest twist in the turf war between Kirwan Terrace and Contant. Khalif Leader, 16, was killed at Kirwan Terrace earlier this month, less than 12 hours after two non-fatal shootings in Contant.
Farrington and Benjamin are scheduled to be arraigned in front of Judge Brenda Hollar 9 a.m. April 2.

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