July 30, 2003 – As head of the V.I. Justice Department, Attorney General Iver Stridiron finds himself facing the responsibility for prosecuting a member of his own staff charged with armed robbery.
Police arrested Wilbert Smith on Saturday after he was identified by a man as the person who pulled a gun on him during an argument and took the man's bag, the contents of which have not been disclosed.
Smith, a forensic chemist with the Justice Department on St. Thomas, has been suspended from duty with pay pending the outcome of the case, according to Stridiron.
"We were all shocked and disappointed to learn that he was alleged to have engaged in some criminal activity," Stridiron said Tuesday. But he added: "As we do with everyone who is accused of crime, we assume he is innocent until proven guilty."
However, Stridiron said there is a difference for Justice when it comes to making sure the defendant is tried in an environment free of any bias that might arise from familiarity between him and his co-workers. To avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest, Stridiron said, he has assigned a prosecutor from the St. Croix district to try the case.
Smith is expected to remain on leave while the case makes its way through the Territorial Court criminal justice system. Once it is resolved, Stridiron said, he will determine whether Smith can return to the job, remain suspended with pay, be suspended without pay or be fired.
The case is the second this year in which Justice officials have had to deal with a staff member accused of a crime. Several months ago, a former New York police officer was arrested as he reported for his first day on the job as an assistant attorney general. Investigators had found that the man falsified his qualifications for the job.
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