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Police, Monitors Say Consent Decree Compliance Within Reach

One of the police officials charged with bringing the Virgin Islands Police Department into compliance with a federal consent decree told a judge on Thursday the goal should be reached by year’s end.

That assessment was given Thursday during a quarterly compliance hearing held in District Court. VIPD Consent Decree Manager Antonio Emmanuel said mandated compliance steps and a follow-up evaluation could be finished within the next few months.

But District Court Judge Curtis Gomez appeared impatient. He asked Emmanuel, Assistant Police Commissioner Curtis Griffin and attorney Terri Griffiths how to speed up the process.

Griffin also serves as chief compliance officer for the consent decree.

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“It seems to me that there was no substantial compliance in this quarter,” Gomez said.

But Emmanuel and St. Thomas District Police Chief Jason Marsh disagreed. They pointed to a substantial number of resolved use-of-force cases completed in the past 90 days.

Griffiths said the number of resolved cases totaled more than 90. Most of them, Emmanuel said, involved low-level complaints.

To work through the backlog, retired officers were brought in to meet with personnel at zone commands throughout the territory.

“What we found was there were cases that had to be located. They had to find cases that were improperly routed,” Griffin said.

There were also cases that had to be sent back to be written over again. The cases were resolved satisfactorily, he said, but the quality of the report pushed them back into non-compliance.

Griffin called it a systemic problem the VIPD didn’t realize they had.

“As much as we wanted to close out cases, we had to return cases for quality issues,” he said.

The assistant commissioner added there was also a push to get police supervisors and commanders through compliance training sessions.

“Our main goal was to reduce the backlog of cases, then there was the training section,” Griffin said.

But he admitted that some supervisors did not demonstrate full comprehension of the use-of-force policies after going through the training.

“How many disciplinary actions have been recommended for supervisors because of non compliance?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Murray of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

About four, Griffin said.

Again, Gomez pressed the question: What can be done to speed up the process?

“Are there manpower shortages in the VIPD that need to be addressed?” Griffiths asked in cross examination.

The greatest pressure to wrap up was falling on Internal Affairs, the assistant commissioner said. An increase in manpower could help.

Also appearing on the stand Thursday was Ann Marie Dougherty, a member of the Independent Monitoring Team. Dougherty agreed the longstanding compliance matter may be settled soon.

“I think there was a great deal of effort made with reducing the caseload. I would lean optimistically to a three to four month window for completing the backlog, as opposed to six to eight months,” she said.

The federal complaint against VIPD for excessive use of force was first filed in 2008. The consent decree was issued by District Court on March 24, 2009.

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