Jan. 6, 2002 – As speeches, praises, scripture and songs sounded from the inaugural ceremonies for Gov. Charles W. Turnbull Monday, one of the territory's teachers was being thrown to the ground and handcuffed by three policemen while her husband, who had come to her rescue, was beaten with a billy club by another officer.
The ceremony didn't miss a beat while Yvonne Freeman, 51, long-time teacher at Joseph Gomez Elementary School, and her husband, Harry Freeman, 69, an electrician and sometime musician, were hauled away to the police station at the Criminal Justice Complex.
Yvonne Freeman was taking part in a peaceful demonstration by American Federation of Teachers union members protesting the raises recently approved by the Senate for elected officials. Vernelle de Lagarde, AFT president, said the group had no intention of entering Emancipation Garden, the site of the swearing-in ceremonies, but marched through the adjacent parking lot. When they were turned back by a barrage of police as they attempted to turn left onto the street between the garden and Grand Galleria, they reversed and began marching back the way they had come toward the Charlotte Amalie fire station.
It was at this juncture that the violence broke out. According to onlookers, police officers were arguing with a woman known only as Samuel, and Freeman interceded. Kenneth Gittens, chief of the governor's security force, and several other officers grabbed Freeman, threw her to the ground, turned her around on her knees and handcuffed her behind her back, after which they dragged her to a nearby police car.
According to Addelita Cancryn Junior High School teacher Cadia Grande, when the officers accosted Freeman, her husband tried to protect her. "A policeman hit him with his billy club five or six times; he fell down and he was bleeding," Grande said.
As officers were handcuffing Harry Freeman, with blood running down his face, he told reporters: "I tell the fellow, 'That's my wife,' and he hit me in the head." Both Freemans were then taken to the police station. Nima Francis, their daughter and also a teacher, stood by in tears as her parents were taken away.
Police Commissioner Franz Christian was at the scene a few minutes later as officers stood around chatting among themselves, and the AFT demonstrators thinned out and returned to the Coast Guard dock, where they had assembled earlier in the morning.
Christian said: "I was in the bandstand when this started, and I came right down. I didn't see what happened." Asked if he thought the officers behaved appropriately, he said: "I want to make clear that the department had officers here basically to keep order." He called what happened "an unfortunate incident."
Christian said a number of peace-keeping personnel were on duty — police, territorial marshals and officers from the Planning and Natural Resources Department. Also observed at the ceremony were V.I. Marine Police and an officer from the Licencing and Consumer Affairs Department. There appeared to be at least 75 officers present.
An officer wearing the royal blue T-shirt of the Special Forces was pointed out as being the one who wielded the billy club. When asked his name, he said: "Call me James Bond, 007." Another request for his name was refused. The officer standing next to him said: "He didn't do it — ask Commissioner Christian."
Christian said he didn't know which officer had used the billy club. He then accompanied de Lagarde to the police station.
Upon his return, Christian said that "one of the Freemans was arrested and charged with assault and battery." Asked which one, he said, "the man."
At the police station AFT members were trying to get together $500 bail for Yvonne Freeman. A policewoman confirmed that was who the bail was for.
The police blotter showed her as having been arrested for "aggravated assault and battery on an officer," with bail set at $500.
De Lagarde said later that only Yvonne Freeman had been arrested, and she had been released on bail. She is to appear in Territorial Court on Tuesday morning for a hearing on the charges, de Lagarde said.
What had started out to be a spirited, well-meaning demonstration by the end of the day left a few dispirited teachers sitting in the police station awaiting the fate of their colleague.
The demonstrators had left the Coast Guard dock about 11:30 a.m., the scheduled starting time for the inaugural ceremony, and marched to the parking lot outside Emancipation Garden singing "Solidarity forever; together we are strong." In a touch of unintentional irony, as the marchers sang outside the barricades surrounding the garden, program soloist Linda L. Milliner was singing from the bandstand "You'll Never Walk Alone."
The marchers carried many placards with a variety of messages on the theme of the raises. Dagmar Greenaway, a teacher at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, held one reading "$300,000 in raises could fund the Victim Advocates Program for three years and this would have benefitted more than the V.I."
The high-profile volunteer program ceased operations on Dec. 31 after 22 years, for a lack of funding.
Carolyn Davis, a Eudora Kean faculty member who has taught for 28 years in the territory, had a sign reading "Public servants who love the V.I. would not RAPE its treasury." Environmental activist Helen Gjessing, appearing as a private citizen, held a polite sign addressing the governor: "Bad timing. Please veto the salary increases, yours, the lt. gov., and the senators."
In answer to reporters' hurried questions about the demonstration, the governor said after the inaugural ceremony as he was being hustled off into his limousine:"It's a splendid act of democracy that you can protest your rights."

Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here