St. Croix Police Chief Christopher Howell and Police Officer Elworth Jones remained in the Juan F. Luis Memorial Hospital Sunday, recovering from injuries sustained during a Saturday-night shooting, while police interviewed a "person of interest" brought to their attention by a citizen tip.
In a statement issued Sunday evening, Police Commissioner Henry W. White Jr. said both officers are in stable condition, but are not out of the woods yet. Howell was shot in the back and arm, while Jones received injuries to his face.
The chief and officer are presently recovering from their injuries but may require additional surgery, the commissioner said.
In a statement from Government House, Gov. John deJongh Jr., who visited the wounded officers earlier in the day, said police are hard at work on the case.
"Citizens have come forward with critical information that has led to the detaining of a person of interest for questioning," the governor said. "Many leads are being followed to bring closure to this case."
The governor added that police are pursuing "significant leads" in another shooting that left one man dead Saturday night in Christiansted.
Howell was shot in the left arm and lower back and Jones’ face was injured by shrapnel and gunfire, according to the hospital. The injuries occurred when Howell and Jones were among officers responding to a robbery in progress at Eat at Cane Bay restaurant in Estate La Valee. Emergency dispatch advised police of the robbery at about 8:40 p.m.
Police said three suspects robbed patrons of their cash and jewelry. Shots were reportedly fired during the robbery; however, no one was injured there. The suspects fled in a gray compact car which was subsequently encountered by Howell and Jones.
“While they are laid up in a hospital bed,” deJongh said, “it didn’t escape me that their greatest concern is the safety of their fellow officers and the effort that is under way to identify and arrest those responsible for the robbery and shooting.”
DeJongh said the growing gun violence in our territory is not acceptable, and while the territory struggles with this epidemic, “I assure everyone that the leadership of the Police and Justice departments is engaged to deploy every asset available to us to fight this violence head on.”
“The wave of violence this weekend: a fatal shooting on St. John Friday night; the incident of last night which has injured two police officials; in addition to a fatal shooting at a nightclub in downtown Christiansted is of deep concern to me as it is to each and every person who calls the Virgin Islands home,” he said.
“We are working now more than ever with our federal law enforcement partners to bring additional crime fighting resources to the territory as we continue waging the war on the criminal element – a crackdown that is engaged every day at the street level by the officers of the Virgin Islands Police Department."
The governor said he will ask Senate President Ronald Russell to have the 29th Legislature finally take action on a bill that would grant peace officer status to federal agents while they are assigned in the territory. The Senate is scheduled to be in a two-day formal session this week.
DeJongh on Sunday expressed his deep appreciation to the men and women of the V.I. Police Department and all law enforcement officers in the territory.
“Let me be quite clear," the governor added, "the attacks in the two districts on law enforcement officers are not acceptable.”
“It is not acceptable to me and it is not acceptable to our community,” he continued. “Several weeks ago on St. Thomas, we experienced the shooting of police officers Colvin Georges and Aaron Hodge. On Saturday night we saw the shooting of Officer Jones and Chief Howell. My administration will not allow the criminal element to believe it can fire upon officers of the law at will.”
“It will not be tolerated,” deJongh said. “One by one, we will hunt down those who have waged violence against officers of the law and those who continue to wage street justice as a means to end their differences.”