Aug. 23--ST. CROIX -- Less than a week after he and V.I. Police Officer Elsworth Jones were shot, St. Croix Police Chief Christopher Howell said the shooting has made the Police Department stronger.
Howell also said that some of the details of the shooting that were released by Government House are incorrect and that he and Jones were not shot while manning a road block.
Howell addressed members of the media Wednesday morning and gave an account of the events Saturday night left him and Jones severely wounded by gunfire in the Canaan Ridge area.
Howell said he was with officers on saturated patrol earlier that evening and had made an arrest of an individual on a firearms possession charge. He was traveling in the police unit, with Jones driving, when they heard a call over the radio of a robbery on the island's North shore at Cane Bay. He and Jones drove up Mon Bijou Road in hopes of intercepting the suspects, Howell said.
Not far up the road, a car matching the description of that being driven by the armed robbers sped past them, heading toward Mon Bijou, and Jones turned the police car around.
"Contrary to what you have been told before, there was no road block," Howell said.
With information from the Police Department, Government House spokesman Jean Greaux Jr. had released the initial press release just hours after the shooting Saturday night saying that Howell and Jones had set up a road block on one of two escape routes out of the Cane Bay area. The suspects opened fire when they came upon Howell and Jones, according to Greaux's press release.
Greaux did not return a Daily News call Wednesday about the inaccurate report.
Howell said that once he and Jones had turned around and headed back down the hill, they realized that the speeding car had run off the road and into the bush.
Howell and Jones passed the car and started to reverse to get to the car before the occupants go out of it but were ambushed.
"They had already exited the vehicle and were laying in wait for us, and as we reversed we came under gunfire," he said.
Howell said bullets were coming through the door panel, the first one hitting him in the left arm, then another hitting his back. Jones was struck twice in the face.
"The vehicle shut down, and we were still under gunfire," he said.
Howell praised Jones' handling of the situation, saying that he was able to put the vehicle in neutral and coast down the hill and out of the line of fire and then radioed dispatchers to send backup and assistance.
Howell said Jones then got into fight mode. He armed himself with a rifle and headed out of the police cruiser even though he was wounded and his face was covered in blood.
"He was injured, and I was injured, shot in the back and my arm was blown apart," Howell said. "I thought I was going to bleed out, but we made a tourniquet and applied pressure to stop the bleeding until backup came from all over."
The erroneous report that the officers had set up a road block was not the only inaccuracy Howell wanted to set straight.
Sunday, and again on Monday, Police Commissioner Henry White Jr. issued official statements saying that the men were out of harm's way and recovering and that their injuries were non-life threatening.
"The idea that our injuries were non-life threatening was untrue, and we owe our lives to the phenomenal group of people who responded to the incident and the surgeons and doctors who put us back together," he said.
White did not return a call from The Daily News on Wednesday.
Howell said a misconception is circulating that the incident has weakened the department, but he said it is not so.
"I am here to tell you that we are here, and we are not going anywhere," he said.
Howell said the community's support has been tremendous, and the police department will continue to be strengthened and move forward with the help of its residents. A minority of people look out only for their best interests, but most of the residents have the interest of their fellow man and the community at heart and the police department will continue to serve and protect in their interest, Howell said.
Immediately after the press conference, Howell headed to the airport to catch a flight out of the territory for additional medical treatment.
"For me to get back the full use of my hand is highly unlikely, but I am not concerned with that," he said.
Three people were arrested in connection with the robbery and shooting, and at least one other person remains at large, according to police.
Alphonso Butler Jr., 23, of Mutual Homes housing community; Melville Parris, 52, of Estate Grove Place; and a 16-year-old boy were advised of their rights Monday and charged with first-degree robbery, first-degree assault, possession of a dangerous weapon during the commission of a crime of violence, unauthorized use of a vehicle and grand larceny.
If they are tried and convicted on all of the charges, each could face more than 90 years in prison.
Butler was detained by police just after 7 a.m. Sunday, in the area just south and east of where the shooting took place. Residents had reported that a suspicious person was walking on the road, and when police responded they found a man walking with torn pants, no shirt, and bleeding lacerations, marks and welts on his body. He was found with a large amount of cash, jewelry, a cellular phone and ammunition in his pockets, according to court files.
Some of the items that Butler had in his possession were identified as having been stolen during the robbery. Police were able to place Butler at the scene because of the footage from a surveillance video.
Parris and the minor in the case also were arrested later in the day on Sunday.
The probable cause affidavit in the case remains under seal by order of the court.
Under local law, the names of minors charged with crimes can not be made public unless a determination is made to have them tried as an adult.
Parris and Butler were scheduled for a bail hearing Wednesday in Superior Court, but that hearing has been continued to Friday.
Bail for each of them is set at $500,000.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email [email protected].
Copyright 2012 - The Virgin Islands Daily News, St. Thomas