Home News Local news Turnbull Asks for FBI and DOJ to Speed Up Investigation and Answers

Turnbull Asks for FBI and DOJ to Speed Up Investigation and Answers


Sept. 29, 2005 –– Gov. Charles W. Turnbull took St. John's racial tensions to Washington, D.C. by asking U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to press for answers in the federal government's investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is in charge of the investigation into recent alleged racially-motivated crimes on St. John.
"The incidents have inflamed emotions in St. John and across the territory, resulting in a series of demonstrations and protest marches planned during the first week of October," the governor wrote to Gonzales.
He told Gonzales that the demonstrations are timed to coincide with the day residents commemorate Contract Day, "often referred to as the Fireburn, which is the anniversary of a slave uprising which occurred on St. Croix in 1878."
In fact, slavery ended 30 years earlier –– in 1848. The Fireburn was a workers' rebellion.
A rally, march and motorcade, a joint effort between groups from St. Croix and St. John, are scheduled for Saturday. A week of events including forums are also planned.
Turnbull said – in a release issued from Government House Thursday – that in a conference call with William Mercer, principal associate deputy attorney general, V.I. Police Commissioner Elton Lewis and James O'Bryan assistant to the governor, he told Mercer about the seriousness of the situation. He said the growing problem on St. John is a result of the investigation's slow pace.
"I cannot stress enough the importance of the overall general state of affairs in the territory that the Department of Justice moves expeditiously to bring a speedy resolution to this investigation," the governor wrote.
He said that while he has no wish to compromise the investigation, time is of essence.
"The potential for violence episodes during these demonstrations are real and cannot be ignored by those of us who are responsible for maintaining social tranquility," Turbull wrote.
He called for the federal government to complete their investigation and turn the results over to the police commissioner and the attorney general. The release did not say when the conference call took place.
O'Bryan did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Lewis, who was in a meeting and could only speak briefly, said the hold up in finding answers rests with the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department, not the V.I. Police Department.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley agreed with Lewis' take on the issue. He said local officials have been asking the FBI for weeks to come up with an answer.
No one from the FBI's public information office in San Juan returned a call requesting information. Paul Murphy, who handles questions for the Justice Department, also did not return a call requesting comment.
Many St. John residents have said they're concerned about the island's tourism industry should word of the racial tensions get out.
However, Monique-Sibilly Hodge, assistant Tourism commissioner, said that so far, she's not gotten any reports from the territory's travel partners about the situation.
"But we'd like it to be resolved smoothly and amicably," she said.
Lewis announced in a Tuesday press release that the VIPD will closely monitor the march, rally and motorcade planned for Saturday to maintain order and control.
He promised that the "safety and well being of St. John residents and participants will be protected at all costs."
St. John's racial tension issues came to the forefront when, on June 20, someone wrote racial epithets on Esther and Jerry Frett's car, parked at their East End home. The Fretts are black.
Then, on Aug. 29, Frett reported she was raped near her house.
Tension escalated at a meeting Aug. 30 called to discuss V.I. Water and Power Authority matters and at a meeting Aug. 31 where federal and local law enforcement officials refused to comment on the specifics of their investigations into the racial epithet incident and the alleged rape.
Early on Sept. 1 someone set Bob Sells Jeep on fire in front of his Close Reach Imports store at Meada's Mall in Cruz Bay. On Sept. 2, the store went up in flames. Arson is suspected in both cases. Sells is white.
Frett, until June, rented the store upstairs from Close Reach Imports for her House of Dolls. Following numerous confrontations between the two, Sells was arrested June 3 for allegedly assaulting Frett. That case is still pending.

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