St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands – A veteran U.S. Virgin Islands police detective was murdered in the line of duty while responding to a report of an armed suspect in the Hospital Ground neighborhood on Tuesday morning.
Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) spokesperson Glen Dratte said the incident occurred in the “Jah Yard” area at approximately 7:53 a.m. on July 4, The Virgin Islands Daily News reported.
The department’s 911 dispatchers began receiving reports from concerned citizens who said they saw a man wearing a ballistic vest and carrying a gun, according to Dratte.
When officers arrived at the scene, the suspect allegedly began shooting at them “with a high-powered assault rifle,” the VIPD said in a statement to The Virgin Islands Daily News.
“Responding officers immediately engaged the suspect,” the police department said.
VIPD Detective Delberth Phipps, a seven-year veteran of the department, was fatally shot during the shootout and succumbed to his wounds at Roy Lester Schneider Regional Medical Center.
🔹 Blessed Are The Peacemakers 🔹
Detective Delberth Phipps, Jr.
Virgin Islands Police Department, Virgin Islands
— National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) (@GLFOP) July 5, 2023
Investigators said the shooter, 51-year-old Richardson Dangleben, was wounded in the exchange of gunfire and was transported to Roy Lester Schneider Regional Medical Center for treatment, The Virgin Islands Daily News reported.
Dangleben was out on bond and awaiting trial for the February 24 murder of 68-year-old Keith Jennings at the time of the shootout.
A judge reduced his bond earlier this year and Dangleben was released onto the streets in March, The Virgin Islands Daily News reported.
Dangleben was allegedly wearing a ballistic vest and carrying a handgun, a rifle, and several hundred rounds of ammunition when he was taken into custody, according to The St. Thomas Source.
He was shot twice during the gunbattle and his condition is unclear, The Virgin Islands Consortium reported.
Virgin Islands Attorney General Ariel Smith said in a statement to The St. Croix Source on Wednesday that Dangleben will face a vigorous prosecution.
“Please be assured that the Virgin Islands Department of Justice will use its best efforts to ensure that all appropriate steps are taken to see that justice is done, in accordance with applicable rules and the law,” Smith told the news outlet.
“Today is that day no department wants to experience,” VIPD Commissioner Ray Martinez said in a statement, according to The Virgin Islands Daily News. “The loss of our Detective, Officer, and Brother has sent ripples through the Department.”
“Detective Phipps made the ultimate sacrifice to Protect and Serve his community, our community!” Commissioner Martinez continued. “Detective Phipps a second-generation Police Officer was a rising star and will be sorely missed. I extend heartfelt condolences to his family as well as our VIPD family.”
The police commissioner said the attack on Det. Phipps and his fellow officers was “a callous, cowardly act by an individual who has absolutely no place in this community,” The St. Croix Source reported.
VIPD Chief Steven Phillips told The Virgin Islands Daily News he was at a loss for words over the “tremendous loss” of Det. Phipps.
“We’ve lost a dear colleague” Chief Phillips said. “Detective Phipps, was truly an outstanding Detective and Individual. We are truly heartbroken.”
Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan ordered flags be lowered to half-staff for one week in honor of the slain hero, The Virgin Islands Daily News reported.
“This tragic incident reminds us of the risks our law enforcement officers face daily in their unwavering commitment to keeping our community safe and is a devastating blow not only to his family, friends, and colleagues but to the entire Virgin Islands community,” Bryan said in a written statement. “My prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to his family and loved ones as they try to get through what I am sure is an unimaginably difficult time.”
Commissioner Martinez blasted the criminal justice system and its judges for allowing Dangleben to be out on the streets with a pending first-degree murder trial looming.
“I have friends, family and colleagues that work for the judicial branch, but [this] episode speaks volumes to the fact — and many before us speak to the fact — that this judicial system and these judges need to do better when it comes to bail,” he told The St. Croix Source.
“There are individuals who should not be on our streets once the police department has done its due diligence to make arrests,” he added.