For the second time in a month, police on St. Thomas have been targeted by armed assailants. On Monday, two men were advised of their rights before a Superior Court magistrate; both were charged with the attempted murder of police officers during separate incidents.
But according to court documents, the circumstances that brought defendants Dorian Hairston, 21, and N’Kel J. Morton, 28, to court on criminal charges differ. Hairston received an Oct. 12 visit from a team of court marshals, directed to serve him a warrant. Morton was confronted by authorities during a traffic stop Saturday carried out by the Virgin Islands Police Department Special Operations Bureau.
According to the officers submitting affidavits to the court, both incidents quickly took dangerous turns. At Hairston’s Solberg home, police said the sound of gunshots began as marshals walked up the driveway to the house. At the traffic stop in Estate Frydenhoj on Saturday, the first officer was allegedly assaulted when Morton drove away from police, rolling over the officer’s foot.
Officer Brian Bedminster said in court that Morton sped away after he was ordered to step out of the car. Then, Bedminster said he heard gunshots as the vehicle passed a patrol car that was responding to the scene.
Hours later, police traced the driver through the license and registration he left behind when he fled the traffic stop. The patrol officer told the team he drew his weapon to shoot at the fleeing vehicle, hoping to disable it.
Morton was later located and arrested. A search of the Honda he was driving produced an ammunition magazine, but no firearm, according to court documents. Once the suspect was taken into custody, the patrol officer identified Morton as the person who fired a weapon at him.
“Sgt. D. Griffith, the Watch Commander of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, requested that Ofc. J. Francis confirm the identity of the defendant in custody was the same individual in the vehicle who fired upon officers. Ofc. J. Francis stated “YES” that is the same individual,” a statement contained in court documents said.
Police also reported that a vehicle belonging to a civilian that was in the area of the traffic stop also sustained damage from a gunshot fired at the scene.
Charges brought against Morton include attempted murder, first- and third-degree assault, reckless endangerment, interfering with officers discharging their duties, and related weapons offenses.
Bail for Morton was set at $300,000 at the time of his arrest. Superior Court Magistrate Paula Norkadis upheld the charges at Monday’s hearing and ordered the defendant to appear for arraignment on Nov. 11.
Charges were also upheld in Hairston’s case. Court documents allege the defendant used a rifle mounted with a scope to target marshals attempting to serve a warrant for failing to appear at a scheduled hearing.
“The Deputy marshals … attempted to serve him with a Failure to Appear Warrant,” said police Detective Richard Velazquez. “The Deputy Marshals stated that upon hearing the gunfire, they took cover for their safety and to assess the situation.”
Police spokesman Glen Dratte said the original matter that brought Hairston to the attention of the court appeared to be linked to a protective order. “I think that the charges had something to do with someone filing papers against him,” Dratte said.
During the standoff in Solberg, Velazquez said, a vehicle operated by one of the marshals was struck by a round fired from the home. At one point during the standoff, officers at the scene said they saw someone leap from a window onto a second-floor landing, and from there, onto an open field.
That’s when documents say officers closed in and arrested the suspect.
A search of the home by the Virgin Islands Police Department Special Response Team turned up a rifle with a scope, rifle cartridges, and ammunition for a 9 mm handgun, documents state.
Hairston was apprehended during that attempted escape, court documents said. He now faces multiple offenses, including one count of attempted murder — first and second degree — for each of the four officers present at the scene. Other charges include assault, reckless endangerment, aggravated assault and battery, interfering with officers discharging their duty, destruction of property and contempt of court. His bail was set at $500,000 at the time of his arrest.
Authorities also charged Hairston with multiple related weapons offenses. Magistrate Norkadis also ordered him to appear for arraignment on Nov. 11.