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Arrested Officers Get Bail, Despite Government Recommendations

After four hours of listening to testimony and reviewing evidence, U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Ruth Miller announced late Wednesday afternoon that she would be going against prosecutors’ recommendations for pre-trial detention and awarding bail to arrested V.I. law enforcement officers Enid Edwards, Francis Brooks and Bill John-Baptiste.
Each of the three defendants will be released after posting a $100,000 secured bond, but will remain afterward on house arrest, under the care of one or two third-party custodians. They will only be able to leave the house to visit with their attorneys or the probation office, with which they are required to check in at least once a week.
Edwards and Brooks — both veteran V.I. Police Department officers — and John-Baptiste, a V.I. Port Authority officer, were indicted and arrested a week ago on charges ranging from racketeering to extortion.
The 33-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury is a mix of federal and local charges and also includes alleged incidences of kidnapping, along with illegal drug distribution. According to the indictment, Edwards and Brooks "abused their positions of trust" as VIPD officers by engaging in "illegal activities for the purpose of enriching themselves."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Lindquist argued Wednesday that proof of the defendants’ behavior has been laid out for years in their agencies’ Internal Affairs files, along with, in the case of Edwards and Brooks, a log of complaints — some decades old — filed with the FBI from drug dealers alleging that the two partners had ripped them off with the intent of redistributing or reselling their confiscated drugs.
The contents of those files were aired during Wednesday’s detention hearing and discussed on the witness stand by VIPD Internal Affairs head Curtis Griffin, who also said he’s been hearing complaints about Edwards and Brooks for years. Incidences logged in Edwards’ file begin in May of 2000, while those in Brooks’ file begin in 1989.
The indictment stems from a continued federal probe into public corruption in the territory, carried out by a task force comprised of FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Postal Inspection Service agents, along with VIPD investigators, among others.
If convicted on the federal charges, Edwards and Brooks could be looking at a maximum 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. On the local side, the two are facing sentences ranging from one year to life in prison.
The indictment also alleges that in 2008, John-Baptiste, working in his capacity as a VIPA enforcement officer, "physically assaulted and detained a person against that person’s will as Edwards and Brooks received cash in exchange for that person’s release from custody."
John-Baptiste has been charged with aggravated assault and battery, along with unlawful sexual contact, in relation to the incident, which is also the subject of a recent civil suit filed with the court.
Lindquist argued Wednesday that John-Baptiste has repeatedly shown a disregard for authority and violent behavior, starting when he was on the VIPD force and continuing into his time at VIPA, where a report in his file said that he was found AWOL in March of 2010.
"The evidence is powerful against these defendants," Lindquist summed up later, adding that the government’s concern — and basis for the recommendation of pre-trial detention — was for the safety of the community and witnesses in the case, who can still be harmed if the officers were released.
Each of the officers’ defense attorneys brought up individuals Wednesday that they said would be able to act as third-party custodians should bail be set, but Lindquist opposed them all, saying that despite their good intentions, they wouldn’t be able to control the officers’ actions.
But all three defense attorneys in the case disagreed, saying that each of the officers had made their lives here, have family here and are neither a flight risk nor pose any danger to the community.
All three also said that detaining the officers would mean having them held in Puerto Rico, which would limit access to their clients. Further, putting them in jail now would essentially mean that they’re guilty, and no one presented evidence Wednesday that showed any of the officers were reprimanded or suspended for any of the claims against them, the attorneys argued.
"The government came up with a brilliant closing argument that they’ve practiced before your honor today," Edwards’ attorney Nagesh Tammara told Miller. "But we haven’t heard any of the evidence."
And at this point, "innuendo" just "doesn’t cut it," Brooks defense attorney Joseph Mingolla said in his argument.
John-Baptiste’s attorney, Carl Williams, also urged the judge not to fashion a judgment based on the other officers’ files, but to consider his client separately. John-Baptiste doesn’t have complaints against him going back 10 years, and the case against him primarily involves one individual, who can easily be protected if safety is the government’s concern, he said.
John-Baptiste’s parents, Jonia and Emmanuel John-Baptiste, testified Wednesday that they would be ready to post their house as bond to secure their son’s release.
In a brief arraignment hearing held before the bail hearing, all three attorneys said their clients were pleading not guilty to all charges against them and requesting a speedy jury trial.
Miller set the trial date for August 16.

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