RENT-A-COP: VIPD ‘Goon Squad’ Tries To Roust Tenants Without Court Orders
FREDERIKSTED — Is part of “protect and serve” to try to forcibly evict tenants without a court order?
At least two Virgin Islands Police Department officers — who are currently serving or have served in the Virgin Islands National Guard — are allegedly moonlighting as extrajudicial court marshals in an attempt to force tenants to move out of residences where they are behind on their rent, the Virgin Islands Free Press has learned.
In VIPD complaints obtained exclusively by the V.I. Free Press, at least two such VIPD officers have assisted wealthy property owners on St. Croix who sought to bypass the court system to try to forcibly evict tenants faster than the wheels of justice can lawfully turn.
TENANT HARASSMENT INCIDENT NO. 1
On April 17, 2021, VIPD officer Eddie Stout allegedly ordered tenant(s) to come out of their private residence on a Saturday night to answer questions about a “plumbing” issue, according to an official complaint with the VIPD.
According to the VIPD Internal Affairs complaint, Stout was not wearing a mask, as mandated by Governor Albert Bryan Jr. as part of his COVID-19 protocols — and did not maintain social distancing during the course of his interrogation of the tenant(s).
Stout apparently referenced “a water use issue” at the residence, and the tenant(s) said they asked him if he was there in police uniform as a plumber to do work on behalf of the landlord — but they got no answer.
The tenant, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said that Officer Stout refused to show his badge number or police ID, but quickly left when the tenant informed him that the landlords had thrown “bodily fluids” outside their bedroom window on four occasions in an effort to get them to move out.
But the tenant added that Stout had a VIPD nametag that said “STOUT” and refused to allow his picture to be taken when asked during the course of his questioning.
Asked about the complaint today, the tenant(s) said when they immediately returned the VIPD Internal Affairs telephone call, in April, the officer who asked to be called stated that he was not prepared to talk at that time.
TENANT HARASSMENT INCIDENT NO. 2
Then on June 23, 2021, VIPD officer Akeem Innis allegedly ordered a tenant to come out of their apartment to answer questions about a “residential lease agreement” which he claimed to have a copy of.
Below is a copy of the complaint that was sent to former Police Commissioner Trevor A. Velinor on June 24. Deputy Police Commissioner Jason K. Marsh wrote to the tenant, who also asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, on June 25 to say that he was actively investigating this complaint of police harassment.
Below is a copy of the official VIPD complaint by the tenant against Innis:
- At around 3:15 to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday June 23, 2021 a man (who would later be revealed to be Virgin Islands National Guard Maj. Akeem Innis) appeared at my apartment door at [address redacted], knocking loudly on the metal louvers and dressed in a VING uniform including a black and yellow “U.S. Army” t-shirt.
- Maj. Innis announced that he was a Virgin Islands Police Department officer, flashed a badge and ID in front of my apartment door, and issued me an unlawful order to come outside to meet with him without stating the legal purpose of his visit as a “police officer.“
- Maj. Innis showed me two documents, each of which was not fully executed by each party as part of a Residential Lease Agreement.
- Maj. Innis made false claims about what the unexecuted documents meant and drew a false conclusion based on an inferior knowledge of civil court matters.
- Maj. Innis stated that I would lose a battle in civil court.
- When I pointed out that Maj. Innis was in fact not a judge himself, but someone dressed in a VING uniform claiming to be a Virgin Islands Police Department officer who had arrived at my residence driving his own personal red Jeep, Maj. Innis became enraged.
- When I asked Maj. Innis if I could examine the badge and ID he had quickly flashed in front of my apartment door, he refused.
- When I asked Maj. Innis if he could please tell me his name, rank and badge number and write it down on a piece of paper, he refused.
- At this point, Maj. Innis stated that he had “tried to be nice” to me, but that I was not cooperating with his mobile justice outdoor courtroom.
- Maj. Innis further stated that he was calling 911 and that two additional VIPD officers would assist him in removing me from my apartment that Wednesday afternoon.
- I waited at my apartment for 30 to 45 minutes, but no additional VIPD officers arrived.
- I called the 911 operator twice to try to determine if the person dressed in a VING uniform was legitimately a VIPD officer.
- Based on my conversations with the female 911 operator, I was asked to call “Sgt. Ortiz” of the VIPD.
- I called the number as the 911 operator instructed me to do and asked for Sgt. Ortiz.
- Sgt. Ortiz told me that the person dressed in a VING uniform was in fact a VIPD officer.
- Sgt. Ortiz told me that the officer’s name was “Akeem Innis.”
- Sgt. Ortiz told me that Maj. Akeem Innis had been informed that he does not have the legal authority to remove someone from an apartment without a court order.
- Sgt. Ortiz expressed surprise that Maj. Innis was still at [address redacted] as he had been informed to leave the premises immediately for which Innis had no probable cause to be at.
- When Maj. Innis interviewed me, he revealed that he was privy to another side’s view of the matter he had raised with me based on his own unilateral authority and was not interested in my viewpoint.
- I saw Maj. Innis exit the gate at [address redacted] about 3:45 to 4:00 p.m. and then leave in his private red Jeep.
The tenant, asked by the V.I. Freep about the complaint today, said they have still not been told by police of Innis’ official rank or duties with the Virgin Islands Police Department.
The tenant added that they informed Innis that they applied in early May to Governor Bryan’s VIHA-ERAP program and were expecting a payment sometime this month, but that the officer had “no interest whatsoever in that subject.”
VIPD spokesman Toby Derima did not immediately return a request for comment today about this report. The National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. also did not respond to a request for comment today.
In each complaint, the tenant(s) involved said that they worked at a home-based business (HBB) and that the officers unwarranted intrusions into their working lives presented an “interference of trade” which personally cost them money. One of the tenants said that they had been laid off from work due to the advent of coronavirus.
It is not clear from the two complaints obtained by the Virgin Islands Free Press, whether or not Stout or Innis had been directed to visit the St. Croix residences in question by their superior officers — or whether they were acting on their own accord.
It is contrary to established VIPD procedures for an officer to appear in an official investigative capacity anywhere without a partner present as backup — and for corroboration of the events of a dutiful investigation as they occur.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS AS A TENANT
A federal eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is in effect from September 4, 2020 to March 31, 2021. The temporary moratorium on evictions extends vital protections to tens of millions of renters at risk of eviction for nonpayment of rent during the global pandemic.
Landlords in several states have challenged the validity of the CDC’s order banning evictions. The latest challenge, in a federal trial court in Washington, D.C., resulted in a decision that invalidates the order. The judge applied her ruling nationwide, but stayed the decision (postponed its effect). (Alabama Association of Realtors v. HHS, No. 20-cv-3377, decided May 5, 2021.)
The landlords appealed the stay to the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 29, 2021 the Supreme Court ruled that the eviction ban could stay in place through July 31, 2021, but that any further extension of the ban by the CDC would require “clear and specific” approval from Congress. Note that even when the federal CDC eviction ban ends, landlords and tenants who are subject to state or local bans must still abide by them.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Geographical locations have been removed or edited for clarity to not divulge the locations of complaints or identity of witnesses.