The circumstances where a homeless man and a young person found contravening the curfew were tased by officers of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force received renewed attention when such a development was brought up in the House of Assembly on 17 April. The matter was raised by Minister with responsibility for Youth Affairs Dr. the Hon. Natalio Wheatley.
Both taser occurrences took place earlier this month and generated public outcry and outrage after two short videos were circulated. The first of the videos shared via social media appeared to show the officers using a stun gun to tase a young man. The next video that garnered public complaint featured a homeless man being tased.
While raising the matter in the House of Assembly on 17 April Hon. Wheatley stated, “I don’t think it is something that we can just look over.” While not casting blame on either side the Minister seemed more focused on the incident involving the homeless man. He said that this was a matter that required discretion. “I certainly don’t condone anybody who is rude to the police or exhibits violence to the police. But, I think I have seen enough in these videos to say that there has to be a much stronger connection between the police and social services in making sure that we use that discretion with persons who are particularly vulnerable and exhibit mental illness,” Hon. Wheatley noted.
He further suggested that there might be an underlining reason why the persons were seen out of their homes during a curfew. “There are some persons who really cannot survive at home because the situation at home is not as normal as other persons home. And we have to be sensitive to that. There are some persons who really need help more than being tased or anything like that,” the Minister stated.
Immediately following the circulation of the videos Commissioner of Police Michael Matthews addressed the matter during an interview with JTV on 13 April. The Commissioner said that the true extent of the situation could not be ascertained from such a short clip. “The vast majority of arrests in recent weeks have not required this level of force. However, it is always dependent upon the circumstances faced and the risk to the officer or public. This cannot be ascertained after the event from a social media clip.”
In further admonishing the public to abstain from drawing conclusions based on the videos Matthews said: “The police are and must remain accountable for the use of any force and details, including accurate evidence of circumstances, can be examined at the National Security Council level involving the Governor and the Premier. This is the appropriate way to be held accountable rather than reliance on a short piece of social media to draw conclusions.”
The Commissioner of Police also mentioned that officers don’t usually use tasers unless it is immensely necessary. “The officers are equipped and trained in its use and every discharge results in an internal report and supervisory review to satisfy that this level of force was justified. The taser is an authorised and legal piece of protective equipment for the RVIPF,” Matthews added.