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Tuesday, August 16, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSenate Committee Shelves Federal Peace Officer Bill

Senate Committee Shelves Federal Peace Officer Bill

A bill to allow the governor and police commissioner to deputize federal law enforcement officials during emergencies and give them status as "special peace officers," with the powers and limited immunities of police officers, was tabled indefinitely in committee Tuesday.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Sammuel Sanes, addresses similar issues as a bill proposed in 2009 by Sen. Louis Hill, which the Senate never voted upon and which generated opposition from some V.I. police officers and others in the community.

Hill’s bill would have granted federal law enforcement officials a certain degree of automatic status as peace officers, with the power to make arrests, use reasonable force and have limited immunity from liability under the V.I. Tort Claims Act.

Part of the motivation for that bill was to try to bring federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officers back to the territory and mend fences with federal agents who were aggrieved after ATF Agent William Clark was charged with homicide after intervening in a domestic dispute in 2008. V.I. Superior Court Judge Edgar Ross dismissed all charges against Clark last October.

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Sanes’ bill would have addressed the question in a slightly simpler fashion, adding "federal law enforcement officer" to the V.I. law enumerating who has law enforcement authority and enumerating their specific powers to carry firearms, make arrests and so forth.

Sanes’ bill also would have given the governor the power to specifically deputize individual federal agents and give them limited "special peace officer" status during an emergency.

The bill was tabled at the beginning of Tuesday’s hearing of the Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee because federal officials had declined to testify, Committee Chairman Sammuel Sanes said after the hearing.

The clerk read into the record a letter from Ronald Sharpe, U.S. Attorney for the District of the Virgin Islands, saying he could not testify because U.S. Justice Department guidelines "require that while acting in my official capacity I may not advocate passage or defeat of state or local legislation or otherwise give an opinion on state or local legislation."

Sanes downplayed the controversy over granting peace officer status to federal officials.

"The fact is, peace officer status has been given to federal officers in many jurisdictions throughout the nation, so it is nothing new," he said.
But he said he did not want to have a hearing without getting input from all the parties who have a stake in the outcome.

"If a particular entity refuses to testify on a bill they are interested in, why should we proceed?" Sanes said.

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