Oct. 2, 2001 – Former Virgin Islands drug czar Wayne Chinnery went on trial Tuesday in District Court, accused of violating a woman's civil rights by pistol-whipping her during a drug search in May of last year.
Chinnery, a former candidate for governor and senator who served as Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's drug-policy adviser and head of the Narcotics Strike Force, is charged with a civil rights violation, use of a firearm during a violent crime, and third-degree assault with a deadly weapon.
But his defense attorney, Stephen Brusch, told jurors in his opening statement that Chinnery was within his rights as a law-enforcement officer when he hit the woman during a confrontation. Brusch also told the jury that his client was holding a radio, not a gun, at the time.
In the prosecution's opening statement, Barry Williams, U.S. Department of Justice special prosecutor, told jurors that Chinnery and another narcotics agent stopped their car on May 21, 2000, in Hospital Ground on St. Thomas to search several people for drugs.
Chinnery told 19-year-old Charese Huggins of Hospital Ground that he wanted to search her, but she refused and cursed at him, at which time Chinnery grabbed her by the throat, Huggins testified Tuesday. When she pushed his hand away, she said, Chinnery hit her in the side of the head with his handgun.
"He took himself out of the role of a law-enforcement officer and into the role of a criminal," Williams told jurors. "All individuals have the right to be free of excessive force."
The blow opened a cut on Huggins' head that required stitches at Roy L. Schneider Hospital, where she made a report of the incident to police investigators, Huggins testified.
But Brusch told jurors that Chinnery was acting within his rights as a law-enforcement officer when he asked to search Huggins. She disobeyed that order, cursed at Chinnery and shoved him before he swung his arm and hit her, Brusch said.
Brusch also said that Chinnery was not holding a gun at the time, but had a radio in his hand. If jurors find that he did not have a gun in his hand, it would undermine the charges of assault with a deadly weapon and using a firearm during a crime, Brusch noted.
Chinnery lost his job as drug czar in August of last year after he was accused of assaulting the mother of one of his children in the parking lot of a St. Thomas resort a month earlier. A Territorial Court judge later acquitted him of that charge after the woman testified that he had not hit her and that her statement to police had been blown out of proportion.
The federal trial is expected to continue Wednesday before District Court Judge Thomas K. Moore.


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