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Justice Department, FBI: Civil Rights Not Violated in Frett Case

Sept. 15, 2006 – A federal investigation showed there was no evidence that civil rights violations were involved when St. John resident Esther Frett claimed she was raped last summer. A press release issued jointly on Friday by the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI indicated the investigation is closed.
"A thorough investigation revealed that this matter does not involve a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights statues," the press release indicates.
The press release did not say Frett's rape claim was false but only that no civil rights were violated. Spokesman Cynthia Magnuson at the Justice Department's Washington, D.C., office would not elaborate further.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley said he didn't think the Justice Department and FBI would go as far as to say Frett wasn't raped.
"They have to be politically correct," Harley said.
The press release does not identify Frett, but she has made known that she was the victim in the alleged rape case.
The Friday announcement appears to cover both Frett's claim that someone wrote racial graffiti on her car June 20, 2005, as well as the alleged rape because it indicates the investigation covers the time period June to August 2005.
"The federal investigation reviewed all allegations. I can't be more specific," Magnuson said.
Frett did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen said Friday that she, other government officials and members of a clergy group got the news in a phone meeting Friday afternoon with U.S. Attorney Anthony Jenkins.
She said the press release, as well as the conversation with Jenkins, raised more questions than it answered.
"We didn't get much more clarity from the U.S. Attorney," she said.
Christensen said she hoped the Justice Department would have held a press conference so the members of the media could have asked the relevant questions.
"This was a very sensitive issue and it has not been handled very well from the beginning," she said.
Harley and others said they hope the announcement brings closure to the matter.
The Rev. Charles Crespo said, "Although we are dissatisfied and disappointed with the vague statements issued by the Department of Justice, they nevertheless bring St. Johnians as close as we will ever get to closure on a deep festering wound."
However, several people said they were angry that the Justice Department took more than a year to come up with an answer.
St. John resident Ronnie Jones said, "The whole of St. John has been sitting on their hands waiting to see what the Justice Department was going to say."
Jones said that he found it surprising that the FBI did not establish a hotline where people could call in tips regarding the alleged rape.
He said that if the information had come out sooner, the community strife that followed Frett's rape claim could have been "nipped in the bud."
Crespo said that had the case been investigated by local law enforcement officials as a sexual assault instead of by federal officials as a hate crime, "we may have gotten closer to the answers we all seek."
While the joint press release was short on details about the findings, it did discuss the amount of resources devoted to the investigation.
The list included eight special FBI agents, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and National Park Service staff.
The investigation included obtaining the investigative files of the V.I. Police Department and the V.I. Justice Department. Those files included incident reports, witness statements, photographs, evidence records and forensic evidence analysis.
The press release indicates that the FBI also conducted numerous witness interviews, evidence collection and extensive forensic analysis of the available physical evidence.
"The decision not to pursue criminal charges is based on the facts developed by that lengthy and thorough investigation," the press release said.
In a statement that puzzled several people, the press release seemed to link St. John resident Robert Sells to Frett's rape and racial graffiti claim.
"One individual has been convicted and sentenced in the Virgin Islands courts for engaging in a bias-motivated assault of the victim, and federal policy precludes the re-prosecution of individuals who have been the subject of a successful local prosecution that substantially vindicates the federal interest in the underlying matter," the press release said.
It did not say that Sells was the person convicted and then sentenced by Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar.
Sells is now in the midst of a four-month term in jail for a racially motivated assault on Frett in June 2005.
Frett and Sells, who both had businesses at Meada's Mall in Cruz Bay, had an ongoing feud that resulted in Frett making a citizen's arrest of Sells on June 3, 2005, charging that he assaulting her.
The case went to court as a misdemeanor, but prosecutor Brenda Scales had the charge dropped and refiled as a felony based on Frett's claim that Sells assaulted her because he was racially biased.
Following the assault claim, Frett and her husband, Jerry, then said that someone wrote racial graffiti on their car. The community gathered Aug. 20, 2005, in Cruz Bay Park to support Frett and express their outrage that such an incident could happen on St. John.
Then, on Aug. 30, Frett claimed she was raped. The community gathered the next night at a meeting organized by Christensen. So many people attended, it was moved from the Legislature building to Cruz Bay Park. The meeting turned ugly several times as people took their turn at the microphone to vent their feelings on the matter.
That night someone set Sells car on fire. The car was parked in front of his Close Reach Imports store at Meada's Mall. The next night someone torched his store. No one was ever arrested in those cases.
An Oct. 1 Unity Day march through the streets of Cruz Bay and a rally at Winston Wells ballfield was initiated by St. Croix resident Mario Moorhead, who said he was there to exterminate the "rascals and scumbags" who raped Frett. He said he and others came because it was the job of big sister St. Croix to look after little sister St. John.
Subsequently, Moorhead and his followers held sit-ins at St. John restaurants and shop-ins at the island's largest supermarket, Starfish Market, in what they said was an effort to force the FBI to provide answers.

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