Twenty-one members of the Virgin Islands Police Department were recognized for exceptional service during the last year in a ceremony Monday at the Violet Damideaux Pavilion on St. Croix.
St. Croix Police Chief James Parris and Deputy Chief Arthur Hector Sr. presented the awards to officers who acted “above and beyond the call of duty under circumstances that involved a significant possibility of physical harm.” Several of the honorees were recognized for two, three and even four incidents of bravery.
“They’ve shown they can do the job and go beyond,” Parris said.
Officer Orlando Benitez received four citations and Officer Rolando Huertas was honored for three occasions. Working together Benitez and Huertas disarmed a suspect who shot at them Feb. 26, 2014, caught a suspected car thief on March 3, with Officer Miguel Charriez, and on March 21, tracked a bank robbery suspect with Officer Lawrence James to a housing community and recovered the stolen money. Charriez and James also received commendations.
Benitez was also recognized for his part in retrieving a gun from a vehicle that refused to stop for officers on a street crowded with pedestrians.
Two other officers, Sean Santos and Haraldo Charles, received two citations each. First for their part, along with Detective Sgt. Anthony Hector, Officer Janella John and Detective Cureene Smith, in chasing and arresting three suspects after a shooting at the Festival Village in January 2013. The officers recovered two guns thrown from the car before it rammed a K-9 unit, attempting to escape, at the Hovensa Training Center. The vehicle was finally stopped at Home Depot.
Santos also received the award for manually disarming a man reaching for a gun in a room with a woman and small child, and Charles was recognized for his service during a rescue operation on April 27.
Six officers were honored for the rescue operation at Annaly Bay that involved an asthma patient in distress. Officers Jason Viveros, Philern Davis, Gregory Bennerson, Omar Henry, Cpl. Uston Cornelius and Charles transported the victim and a civilian who hurt his back up the steep hill and freed the victim’s vehicle that was trapped trying to climb the hill.
Parris and Hector congratulated and praised Detectives Frankie Ortiz and Leon Cruz for pursuing homicide suspects who VIPD believed intended to “shoot and kill” any law enforcement officer who tried to arrest them. Ortiz and Cruz located and arrested two suspects in the Feb. 14 Frederiksted murder on Vieques.
Other Exceptional Service Awards were given to:
– Officers Jamale Griffin and Moses President for recovering marijuana and a handgun during a traffic stop;
– Off-duty Officer Emanuel Barnes, who alerted units after a bank robbery at Scotiabank in October 2013 and helped apprehend the suspect, with the money and a handgun;
– Sgt. Freddy Ortiz and Officers Benetiz and Daniel Stevens who were guarding a crosswalk for hundreds of children and parents attending a Halloween function at a Christiansted school when Benetiz spotted a gun in a vehicle that wouldn’t obey their instructions, and Ortiz and Stevens covered him while he recovered a loaded firearm and two “lookalike weapons”;
– Officer Michael Simmonds, who investigated an assault case in November 2013 and obtained warrants that netted five firearms, ammunition and a bulletproof vest. Both suspects later confessed.
Capt. Mary Duggan and eight officers were commended for serving the community and the department “with honor and dedication.” Capt. Kenneth Edwards, Lts. Dino Herbert, Clyde Newton, Leslie Pemberton, Joseph Platt, Edmund Walters, Dennis Vanterpool and Senior Cadre Gleston McIntosh were presented the Honorable Service Award.
“Your loyalty, honesty and dedication are second to none,” Hector said as he handed Duggan her commendation certificate.
Thirty-one officers including several Exceptional Service recipients were awarded certificates of commendation for acts “above and beyond the call of duty” or “a significant achievement in the pursuit of excellence.” And 14 officers were given Morale Booster certificates.
Educational Achievement awards went to Pemberton, Platt and Henry for earning bachelor’s degrees and to Sgt. Mirrett Benta for an associate’s degree.
Other activities to celebrate National Police Week, which started May 9, were rained out over the weekend, according to VIPD spokeswoman Melody Rames. Upcoming Police Week activities include open houses and peace officer memorial ceremonies on St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. See the Source for times and locations.
The highlight of the week, according to Chief Parris, will be May 15 when VIPD Officer Leopold Frederiks will be enshrined on the National Law Enforcement Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.
Parris said this is the first time the VIPD awards were presented and 25-35 members of the department were recognized.
“It’s to let them know we appreciate what they have done and recognize them for that,” he said.
Parris wouldn’t say how many are on the force, or what percentage of employees was recognized, just that full staff should be close to 300 men and women.
“It’s nowhere near that. We’re extremely short, but we rise to the occasion,” the chief said.