Walker Calls Waterfront Gunshot Justified

Attorney General Claude Walker in an April photo, testifying at a V.I. Senate hearing.. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, provided by the V.I. Legislature)
Attorney General Claude Walker (File photo)

The head of the V.I. Justice Department announced Monday the end of an investigation into a July shooting incident involving an off duty peace officer.

Attorney General Claude Walker said the V.I. Superior Court marshal who discharged the shot did not commit wrongdoing. But the explanation Walker offered appears to conflict with details seen in a video posted to social media of the July 9 incident near a bus stop outside the Windward Passage Hotel.

Walker’s statement also left unanswered questions about the circumstances surrounding the incident. The video that was apparently shot from a hotel window depicts an altercation between two women and two men, with punches thrown and two antagonists rolling around on the ground.

It also captured the image of a driver attempting to hit pedestrians, then a parked car, before racing down a service road between the hotel and Veterans Drive.

In the AG’s opinion, off-duty Superior Court Marshal Dale Brathwaite, 57, took justified action when he arrived on the scene and discharged a gunshot to quell the melee. At the time Braithwaite was responding to a radio call from a police officer, requesting backup.

“The investigation revealed that the marshal was off-duty at the area of Wendy’s in Havensight and heard over his radio a call for help. When he responded, he saw a woman being severely beaten, someone driving a vehicle erratically – hitting several other vehicles – and an angry mob,” Walker said.

“The officer issued a series of warnings that were completely ignored, so he glanced out at the harbor to find an area to discharge one warning shot over the sea, and then the crowd behaved. My review of the evidence revealed that the officer fired his weapon only for the purpose of compelling obedience from an unruly mob, some of whom were involved in a violent fight and that the discharge was not intended to cause any physical injury.”

At no time during the video posted to YouTube is anyone seen brandishing a weapon. The scene is dark, except for areas lit by passing headlights and street lamps.

Justice officials said police got involved after viewing recorded images that depicted actions deemed concerning.

“The Virgin Islands Police Department launched an investigation. The VIPD then submitted the matter to the Department of Justice for review and the DOJ found that the officer did not violate the law,” a Justice official said.

One puzzling point is while a criminal conduct investigation into Braithwaite’s actions appear to end, police said an investigation into the brawl never began.

As of Monday, VIPD spokesman Glenn Dratte said there had been no arrests. Dratte confirmed that with a call to Lt. Debbie Hodge in the Criminal Investigations Bureau.

“There was no arrest after that,” the spokesman said.

Other aspects of the July 9 incident also raise doubts. As many as 20 people are seen in the video; eight are standing on the other side of Veteran’s Drive, watching. Two or three more are seen crossing the street to join the onlookers and three are seen getting out of the way of a car jumping the curb at the bus stop.

It’s an image that falls short of “two hostile crowds advancing toward the police officer,” referred to in the statement from Justice. The account of the incident also fails to mention the danger posed to moving vehicles and onlookers standing in the direction the shot was reportedly fired.

Both of which are clearly seen in the 3 minute 44 second recording.

The AG said that although the firing of warning shots is generally prohibited by local and nationwide law enforcement agencies because it is extremely dangerous as no one can predict the trajectory of a bullet, there are circumstances when such action is warranted.

“I am not defending the use of warning shots, but in an odd way, they could serve to reduce deaths caused by police-related shootings, in that officers have a broad range of choices instead of the current rigid rules,” he said.

Controversy over use of force by the Virgin Islands Police Department has been the subject of a federal consent decree for several years. Justice officials point out that other armed peace officers – including marshals employed by the court – are not subject to similar scrutiny.

Although such conduct might be raised in an administrative hearing. According to Act No. 7888, passed in 2016, marshals serve under the direction of the chief justice of the Virgin Islands Supreme Court.

But neither Walker nor court administrators could say if the July 9 incident involving Marshal Brathwaite had triggered an administrative review.

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