July 3, 2001 – "We are going to continue to fight this," Evaristo Rios said Tuesday as he sat on the brick wall just below the bench affording a view of the waters Sir Francis Drake reputedly sailed through more than four centuries ago. "This isn’t over."
Across the road, at the Drake's Seat overlook, tourists took pictures of the panorama and peered with curiosity at posted signs alleging a government conspiracy against vendors who were removed from the site on Dec. 1.
Rios is among those few who have continued to protest the government's action — and to solicit help from tourists for the legal battle he and two other vendors are waging in their efforts to continue doing business at the site.
Trespassing charges were dropped against four vendors who refused to halt their protests at Drake's Seat in February. Two vendors at the site said Tuesday that they can and will continue to protest their ouster.
Three vendors demonstrated at the lookout on Friday and they said they will continue to do so, off and on, while lawsuits seeking more than $5 million in damages wend their way through District Court.
The vendors have sued Christine Wheaton, co-trustee of the estate of Homer Wheaton, and the V.I. government, charging that their civil rights were violated because they were not given a hearing before their permits to operate on the property were not renewed last year.
Meanwhile, Rios said, three vendors also have applied to the Police Department for placement permits to operate at Drake's Seat. District Court Judge Thomas Moore ruled on Jan. 26 that only the police could issue valid placement permits. Memorandums of understand the vendors had from the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department were invalid, he said.
However, the Police Department has not issued placement permits since 1993. In response to the vendors' permit applications, police officials "didn’t say anything and we haven't heard back from them," Rios said.
Attorney General Iver Stridiron said the Police Department will not issue any permits to sell wares at Drake's Seat, and that any vendor who attempts to sell anything there will be arrested and prosecuted.
Stridiron said he was unaware of the current protests but would look into the situation. If protesting "is all they are doing," he said, that's legal as long as they stay off the easement, which the government and representatives of the Wheaton estate say is private property. "If they are on the public thoroughfare, they are all right," he said.
On the other hand, "If they are selling, that is where the problem comes in," Stridiron added.
Four vendors who ignored police orders to relocate to Vendors Plaza on the St. Thomas waterfront, saying the plaza is overcrowded, a flood zone and less lucrative, were arrested in February. Three still refuse to leave and are pressing their claims in court, Rios said. He said one who moved to the new overlook platform on Waldemar Hill "Skyline" Drive is making significantly less money there.
Rios said the three vendors who have sued will fight until the court makes a determination on whether the land is privately owned or not — an issue unaddressed in a succession of District Court rulings.
And according to Rios, a plan by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to appropriate $4 million from a projected tax windfall to acquire all or part of the Wheaton Estate will not help the vendors. He said reports that the governor plans to purchase the Drake's Seat easement are misleading. The vendors would be positioned at another location below the easement, he said, removed from the thousands of tourists who visit the site each year on island tours and on their own.
The vendors who have sued are still being represented by attorney Kenth Rogers, Rios said. In March, the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department said Rogers did not have a current license to practice law in the territory.
Rogers said that move was politically motivated, because Commissioner Andrew Rutnik was a frequent target of vendors' criticism and was named as a defendant in their lawsuit. The move came days before a court hearing in which a motion to dismiss the U.S. government as a defendant was granted and the Wheaton estate was allowed to intervene in the vendors' attempts to continue selling at the overlook.
Denying that Rogers was singled out for political reasons, Rutnik said the attorney had been practicing law in the territory illegally for years because he had no license. (Many lawyers have long protested that licensing should be not of individual attorneys but of law firms.) Rogers did not attend a hearing on the matter and other attempts to resolve the issue with him were unsuccessful, Rutnik said.
Rogers could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


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