by Janeka Simon (VI Consortium) The shocking death of Detective Delberth Phipps by a gunman who was released on bail after being charged with first-degree murder in February, has once again placed the police and the judiciary at odds regarding the issue of bail. Detective Phipps was shot dead Tuesday morning in what Police Commissioner Ray Martinez deemed an “ambush” by the suspect, Richard Dangleben Jr. The commissioner railed against the judiciary and called for a reevaluation of the current system where suspects are swiftly released back into the community — many of them repeat offenders.
“Our judges are too lax, they are too soft when it comes to bail,” Mr. Martinez chastised. “They hide behind a lot of these things. They hide behind the fact that it’s their way, it’s their opinion. And who gets the blame for it when these individuals are back on the streets? It’s more often than not the Virgin Islands Police Department and the Attorney General’s Office, because that’s who the community sees as the individuals who allowed them to be out when, in fact, that’s not the case.”
The commissioner asked for the community’s prayers on behalf of Detective Phipps’s family and the entire VIPD, but said he struggled to control his emotions when reviewing the facts surrounding his officer’s murder. “This suspect in today’s shooting was out on bail for a February first-degree murder charge,” Mr. Martinez noted. “Today’s episode, and many before us speaks volumes to the fact that our court systems and our judges need to do better when it comes to bail.”
“I understand and respect the court’s position that bail should not be used simply to incarcerate or to keep someone off the street. But in that same token, it should be. There are individuals who should not be on our streets,” Martinez asserted, arguing that there is a specific sociocultural context in the Virgin Islands that members of the judiciary should consider when deciding how to structure bail and other conditions of pretrial release, or deciding whether to even grant a defendant release from custody ahead of trial.