Sept. 13, 2005 – Police Commissioner Elton Lewis said at a press conference Tuesday that significant progress had been made in the investigation of alleged hate crimes on St. John. He also said that he expected the investigation to be concluded relatively soon, but he gave no timetable or specifics.
He concluded his comments at the police station in Frederiksted, "I urge the public not to allow rumor and innuendo to divide the community."
The incidents under investigation by local and federal authorities go back to June 20 of this year. On that morning Jerry and Esther Frett reported finding racial epithets and a hangman's noose drawn on their car parked at their East End home.
But Lewis indicated the investigation would also include a June 2 incident where Bob Sells was arrested on assault charges after he allegedly pushed Esther Frett.
On Sept. 2 a fire gutted the interior of Close Reach Imports. The store, located at Meada's Mall in the heart of Cruz Bay, is owned by Sells.(See "Meada's Mall Fire Likely Sparked by Racial Tensions").
Reports of a black woman being raped, gagged and thrown in the ocean brought tensions to a boiling point on Aug. 9.(See "St. John Rape Sparks Anger, Sadness, Calls for Justice").
These reports drew the attention of senators and Delegate Donna Christensen. Christensen called a community meeting on St. John and at that meeting Lewis promised to keep the residents updated on the investigation. (See "Angry St. Johnians Eager for Answers in Alleged Rape Case".)
Although his report on Tuesday gave no details of the investigation, he said he was giving as much as he could.
He said that the FBI was presently the lead organization in the investigation and that federal privacy law and Department of Justice policy prohibits federal employees from disclosing information specifically obtained in investigations.
When asked if any criminal complaints were found to be falsely filed, if there would there be charges brought against those filing the false charges, Lewis said that would be a question that the FBI should answer.
He said a meeting involving the principals in the investigation was held with Christensen on Monday.
He said, "As a result of that meeting, I can assure the community that substantial federal and territorial resources have been devoted to the investigative effort including several members of the V.I. Police Department, six Special Agents of the FBI, agents of the local office of the ATF, and a certified Fire Investigator from the ATF."
He added, "These investigators are conducting a vigorous and thorough investigation of the allegations. The agents have conducted numerous interviews and are employing other investigative techniques."
Lewis told the reporters that within the next couple weeks a stronger police presence will be felt on St. John with negotiations under way for a permanent substation in Coral Bay.
Lewis said that his department was aware of a demonstration planned for Oct. 1, but not exactly sure of its nature.
The press conference was held at Lewis' office at Mars Hill on St. Croix.
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