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Virgin Islands U.S. Attorney’s Office Advocates for National Night Out Engagements

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The United States Attorney’s Office in the District of the Virgin Islands has voiced its unwavering backing for the yearly National Night Out happenings, set to unfold across the region this October. These engagements accentuate the crucial alliance between the law enforcement bodies and the communities they serve.

Teaming up with the Virgin Islands Law Enforcement Planning Commission and the Virgin Islands Juvenile Justice State Advisory Group Board, an array of events has been slated across the Virgin Islands. Among the notable events were those held at Buddhoe Park, St. Croix on October 7, and at the Franklin Powell Bandstand on St. John on October 13. Anticipated events on St. Thomas are as follows:

  • October 27, 2023, at 5 p.m.: Community Prayer & Praise Day, scheduled at the Promenade by the Waterfront.
  • October 28, 2023, at 4 p.m.: A procession from Emile Griffith Park to Emancipation Garden.

U.S. Attorney Delia Smith accentuated the importance of these assemblies, remarking, “National Night Out engagements are an invaluable channel to renew the tight bond between law enforcement and the communities we cater to.”

Initiated in 1984 and underwritten by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, National Night Out is a nationwide venture aimed at nurturing trust and camaraderie between law enforcement and local communities, with a broader goal of augmenting neighborhood safety. Administered by the non-profit entity National Association of Town Watch, the initiative sees millions of attendees nationwide.

In the Virgin Islands, the local law enforcement, allied with skilled volunteers, orchestrates the program. These events, encompassing neighborhood parties, barbecues, parades, safety exhibitions, youth-centric activities, and emergency personnel visits, serve to bolster the neighborly spirit in fostering community safety.

Individuals or entities keen on contributing as service providers for a local National Night Out event are urged to liaise with the Virgin Islands Law Enforcement Planning Commission. They may reach out to either Jacqueline Freeman or Ana Creque at (340) 774-6500 ext. 210 or 209.

For a deeper understanding of National Night Out and its mission, one can visit https://natw.org/.

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USVI Community Pulse

Christiansted’s Old Barracks Set for Revival with Humanities in Place Grant

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The V.I. Architecture Center for Built Heritage and Crafts (VIAC) has received a significant boost for its project to transform the Old Barracks property on Hospital Street, Christiansted, into an educational center focused on built heritage, historic preservation, architecture, and the building arts.

On Thursday, VIAC announced a $200,000 Humanities in Place Grant from the Mellon Foundation. This grant, aimed at supporting “a fuller, more complex telling of American histories and lived experiences,” will fund strategic planning and design for the project. The revitalized Old Barracks property will feature spaces for community and cultural heritage displays and activities, aligning with the Humanities in Place goal of fostering innovative approaches to understanding and celebrating diverse histories.

“With this grant, our first from a private foundation, we begin to plan for and develop the content that will be featured in our exhibit, studio, auditorium, and library/archive that are part of our proposed development of the site,” said VIAC Board Chair Mary Dema. “According to our business plan, this creates a cultural center in Christiansted that can become an attraction for residents and visitors alike.”

The project planning team will now engage with local stakeholders and experts for their input into the process.

Earlier this year, VIAC secured $850,000 in community project funding from the federal government for the Old Barracks project, thanks to successful requests from Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2024. “These requests reflect the priority my office places on the need for community development and providing more economic opportunities for our most vulnerable populations,” Ms. Plaskett said at the time.

Additionally, VIAC obtained funding to ensure the comprehensive research and documentation of the 256-year-old property’s history. A $25,000 grant from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, through the National Endowment for the Humanities, supports VIAC’s Storytelling project. This project is gathering historical material to develop a curriculum and conducting interviews for an eventual documentary.

VIAC also secured long-term stability for the project with a 50-year lease from the Virgin Islands government. “We are thankful to Governor Bryan, the 35th Legislature of the Virgin Islands, and the Department of Property and Procurement for facilitating the acquisition of the lease, which is vital to our development efforts,” said Ms. Dema.

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USVI Community Pulse

V.I. Parole Board to Review Cases of Manslaughter, Robbery, and Fraud

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The V.I. Parole Board has released its schedule for parole hearings in June, inviting testimony from victims, family members, and other interested parties.

To submit testimony, written comments or requests to appear before the Board must be sent by May 30, 2024. Correspondence should be addressed to:

Chairman of the Parole Board
John A. Bell Adult Correctional Facility
Rural Route 1, Box 9909
Kingshill, VI 00850-9715
Phone: (340) 773-6309 ext. 6817
Email: [email protected]

Hearing Schedule

June 3:
Edwin Rivera, convicted of second-degree robbery and currently incarcerated at the Citrus County Detention Facility in Florida, will have his parole application reviewed.

June 5:
Five inmates from the Tallahatchie County Facility in Missouri will be heard:

  • Jahzeel Fenton – First-degree assault (domestic violence)
  • Yamini Potter – Grand larceny, identity theft, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice
  • Jim Wallace – Voluntary manslaughter
  • Elieser Edwards – First-degree robbery
  • Dekumar Rogers – Unauthorized possession of a firearm

June 7:
The board will review the case of Mekel Blash, serving a sentence for second-degree murder, from the Wallens Ridge State Prison, Keen Mountain Correctional Facility, and Red Onion State Prison in Virginia.

June 10:
Applications from inmates at the John A. Bell Correctional Facility will be considered:

  • Francisco Tirado – First-degree unlawful sexual contact
  • Ethelbert Benjamin – First-degree unlawful sexual contact
  • William Wilson – Possession of marijuana with intent to distribute

June 11:
The board will hear applications from inmates of the Alexander A. Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex:

  • Curtis Petersen – Stalking (domestic violence)
  • Edward Paul – Unauthorized possession of a firearm
  • Ray Sanderson – First-degree attempted robbery
  • Shamall Fleming – Second-degree assault (domestic violence)

Public Advisory

The Parole Board reminds the public that parole eligibility is based on the inmate’s sentence and V.I. parole statutes. Inclusion on the eligibility list does not guarantee parole or a scheduled hearing. Parole can only be granted on the recommendation of the Director of the Bureau of Corrections. Additionally, release dates depend on various conditions, including approval by the State Council of Interstate Compact for the Supervision of Adult Offenders.

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USVI Community Pulse

USVI Prosecutors and Public Defenders Now Eligible for Law School Loan Repayment Grants

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Prosecutors and federal public defenders in the U.S. Virgin Islands now have a chance to ease their law school loan burdens through a new grant program.

The Virgin Islands Law Enforcement Planning Commission (LEPC) has announced the acceptance of applications for the John R. Justice Grant Program. This initiative, established during the Obama administration, provides loan repayment assistance to qualifying prosecutors and public defenders who commit to staying in their positions for at least three years.

This year, the LEPC has secured $51,840 in grant funds for the program. They plan to distribute approximately 10 grants of around $5,000 each, although the final amount could vary based on the number of applicants. “Awards may increase depending on the number of respondents,” the LEPC stated.

The grants are available to full-time federal public defenders and prosecutors. Full-time is defined as working at least 75% of a standard 40-hour work week. The selection process will prioritize applicants who demonstrate the greatest financial need in repaying their student loans.

The application process involves several steps: income verification, school loan verification, and the completion of a John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program Service Agreement. Applicants must also submit additional documents, including education loan records and proof of employment. The LEPC has indicated it will work with the Department of Labor to account for any increases in the cost of living.

Applications must be submitted electronically to the LEPC by 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, 2024, at [email protected]. Incomplete applications or those lacking required signatures and documents will not be considered.

For further information or to request an application, interested parties can contact Ms. Carmen Potter, Executive Assistant to the Director, at (340) 774-6400 or via email at [email protected].

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