Twenty days after Everton McMaster was shot and killed in Baughers Bay last November, off-duty Police Sergeant Lenroy Samuel went to a holding cell at the Road Town Police Station and visited a man suspected of involvement in the murder, Principal Crown Counsel Kellee Gai-Smith alleged Monday in Magistrates’Court.
Mr. Samuel spoke with the suspect — Cordell O’Neal, who has not been charged with the killing — and then he left the cell and called Mr. O’Neal’s sister Zubida O’Neal, according to Ms. Gai-Smith.
Ms. O’Neal, in turn, called another brother, who subsequently went to Mr. O’Neal’s apartment and removed items before police arrived later that day to search the premises, the prosecutor said, adding that officers were unable to find a cell phone they expected to be there.
Mr. Samuel is now facing a charge of breach of trust in connection with his visit to Mr. O’Neal and a separate charge of unlawful possession of explosives in connection with ammunition police said they found when they searched his house last Thursday.
During his hearing on Monday, which was held remotely, Mr. Samuel pleaded not guilty to both charges and was granted bail of $70,000 by Magistrate Khadeen Palmer.
The allegations against Mr. Samuel are the latest example of police officers themselves becoming suspects in ongoing investigations in recent months.
Since 2.3 tonnes of cocaine were allegedly discovered on a police officer’s property hours after Mr. McMaster’s killing, at least two police officers have been arrested in connection with this bust, the largest in VI history.
And in a June 21 position statement to the Commission of Inquiry, Police Commissioner Mark Collins said a total of nine officers were suspended from the force at the time for allegations ranging from making obscene publications to possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply.
The investigations of police officers are not over, according to Ms. Gai-Smith.
The prosecutor said Mr. Samuel was first interviewed about his alleged interactions with Mr. O’Neal and his sister on the day of the unsuccessful search of Mr. O’Neal’s residence — almost a year before his court appearance on Monday.
She added that the officer also has been linked to at least two other people who have been convicted or charged with firearm-related crimes in the past year.
Investigations concerning Mr. Samuel are ongoing, she said, and officers are pursuing other leads that she declined to share in a public forum.
After Ms. Palmer read the charges against Mr. Samuel on Monday, Ms. Gai-Smith read the allegations.
On Nov. 25, 2020, while investigating the Nov. 6 murder of Mr. McMaster, police executed a search warrant at Mr. O’Neal’s residence in Freshwater Pond, the prosecutor alleged.
During the search, police discovered that Mr. O’Neal had a cell phone, but when they returned to the Road Town Police Station, they realised that “it was not with them,” Ms. Gai-Smith read. Officers questioned Mr. O’Neal about “the location of the cell phone he had with him during the search,” and they were “informed that it was left at the apartment in the purse that he had with him,” she added.
As “the cell phone was important to the investigation at hand,” police obtained another warrant to search Mr. O’Neal’s house again the following day, Ms. Gai-Smith said.
But before they carried out the second search, Mr. Samuel, who was off duty at the time, visited the Road Town Police Station cell where Mr. O’Neal was being detained, Ms. Gai-Smith alleged. Audio and video recordings gathered from CCTV cameras at the station depict Mr. Samuel asking the defendant “for a number” and recording information on his cellphone before walking out of the station building into the yard, according to the prosecutor.
Call-record data show that “a minute” after stepping into the yard, the sergeant called Mr. O’Neal’s sister, the prosecutor alleged.
“Several other calls were subsequently made to [Ms. O’Neal] after the initial call,” Ms. Gai-Smith said.
She added that data records show that “moments after the call” from Mr. Samuel, Ms. O’Neal called another brother.
That brother then went to Mr. O’Neal’s Freshwater Pond residence, according to the prosecutor. “CCTV footage was obtained from the residence of Mr. O’Neal, who had cameras mounted up,” according to the prosecutor.
Before police arrived to execute the search warrant, the brother “entered the apartment with a key and removed some items,” she said.
When officers arrived later and searched the apartment, they didn’t find the phone or the purse Mr. O’Neal previously said contained it, according to the prosecutor.
“Nothing pertaining to the search warrant was thereafter found,” she said.
During a recorded interview, Mr. Samuel denied the allegations against him, the prosecutor read. Ms. Gai-Smith added that Mr. Samuel initially admitted to knowing Zubida and Cordell O’Neal but not their brother, and “at first denied ever calling Zubida O’Neal or passing any information on to her on behalf of Cordell.”
“However, after he was shown the CCTV footage and his call-data records, he admitted to calling [Ms. O’Neal] and informing her that her brother was arrested at the [police station],” Ms. Gai-Smith alleged.
Reading the allegations relating to Mr. Samuel’s explosives charge, Ms. Gai-Smith said that last Thursday, police officers executed a search warrant on his Virgin Gorda residence while he was in police custody in Road Town “for an unrelated matter.”
Ms. Gai-Smith did not explain why Mr. Samuel was in custody that day or why the search warrant was executed.
While conducting the search in the presence of Mr. Samuel’s wife, officers found 11 rounds of 0.45 caliber ammunition stuffed inside a Timberland boot in a bedroom closet, Ms. Gai-Smith alleged.
Mr. Samuel’s wife was cautioned and denied any knowledge of the ammunition, the prosecutor read.Shortly after noon that day, police officers informed Mr. Samuel of the ammunition found at his residence and cautioned him, the Crown counsel read.
“He replied, ‘She doesn’t know anything about that. Let her go,’” Ms. Gai-Smith read, though she did not say whether his wife was ever detained.
After being arrested on suspicion of possession of explosives, “He replied, ‘Let’s do the interview,’” Ms. Gai-Smith read.
During a 16-minute cautioned interview, the defendant “admitted to having sought possession and knowledge of the ammunition” and also said that he was the one who stuffed the ammunition into the boot “some time ago,” Ms. Gai-Smith said.
The sergeant was later charged with unlawful possession of explosives, and when served with a copy of his charges he made no comment, according to the prosecutor.
Defence attorney Stephen Daniels said Mr. Samuel is a 41-year-old Dominica native residing in The Valley, Virgin Gorda, who has been a police officer for 15 years and has no previous convictions.
Mr. Daniels added that both complaints against his client are bailable, and he pointed to a previous matter in which an immigration officer was granted bail despite facing 13 indictable counts of breach of trust.
The attorney also argued that Mr. Samuel is not a flight risk, as he has lived here for more than 15 years and has a wife and 11-month-old child who are dependent on him.
“We do believe, Your Honour, that Mr. Samuel is a fit and proper candidate for bail in the circumstances,” Mr. Daniels said.
Summarising the instructions he was given by his client regarding the breach-of-trust charge, Mr. Danielss aid Mr. Samuel “was basically just doing a community service” on behalf of Mr. O’Neal.
The lawyer added that Mr. Samuel had explained how he had come in possession of the ammunition, but he said there would be a better time to discuss it in court.
However, Ms. Gai-Smith argued that the seriousness of the offences and the severity of the penalties that could be imposed provide grounds for refusing bail.
Summing up the allegations of Mr. Samuel’s breach-of-trust charge, Ms. Gai-Smith said, “This is an egregious offence which erodes the confidence of the public. We already know that that is a great [difficulty] that we are grappling with.”
Regarding the possession charge against Mr. Samuel, Ms. Gai-Smith said, “I daresay the evidence there is strong as well.”
She added that while Mr. Samuel has lived here for at least 15 years, his status in the Virgin Islands is tied to his job, and he and his wife are both still close with their families in their native Dominica.
“His connection is with his family, … who reside in Dominica,” she added.
The prosecutor also said that Mr. Samuel’s wife works for a charter yacht company, “and I would daresay [there is] not too much of a stretch of an imagination that he too would then have access … to a lovely boat ride outside of the territory.”
The Crown counsel also urged the magistrate to take into account Mr. Samuel’s access to ammunition.
Though police did not find a gun during their search, she said, Mr. Samuel is a known associate of people convicted of or charged with firearm offences: Mr. O’Neal, who previously was sentenced to prison for firearms charges in 2015; Akiya Brewley, who the prosecutor claimed was dating Mr. Samuel when she was charged with carrying an unlicensed firearm in June 2020; and David Straker.
“In November 2020, the Crown is advised, … there is CCTV footage showing the defendant entering the Road Town Police Station whilst off duty and giving personal items, perhaps in his aid of ‘community service,’ to Mr. David Straker, who has a conviction for a firearm offence,” the prosecutor alleged, adding, “This is an active investigation and there is concern … that the defendant will interfere in the course of justice.”
Mr. Daniels countered that Mr. Samuel’s duty as a police officer is similar to that of the immigration officer previously granted bail as he was facing 13 counts of breach of trust.
He then invoked a breach-of-trust case stemming from a fatal May 30 stabbing at Her Majesty’s Prison in which all three defendants — two prison officers and one already-interdicted police officer — were granted bail.
“I would ask the court to be consistent in the application of the standard of granting bail,” Mr. Daniels said.
He added that Mr. Straker used to live in Virgin Gorda, which is a small community, and that Ms. Brewley has not been convicted and was not Mr. Samuel’s girlfriend but “was known to him.”
“I don’t see how that is relevant in granting bail,” the attorney added.
Ultimately, Ms. Palmer said she did not see anything to suggest Mr. Samuel won’t attend his court hearings, and she decided to grant him $70,000 bail with a $10,000 cash component.
She also imposed bail conditions: Mr. Samuel must surrender his travel documents; report to the Virgin Gorda police station between 6 a.m. and noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and refrain from interfering with the investigation or contacting anyone involved in it.