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U.S. Virgin Islands police detective shot, killed by suspect out on bail

Detective Delberth Phipps is the first member of the V.I. Police Department to die in the line of duty since 2012


The suspect had been released from jail after a judge reduced his bail.

Virgin Islands Police Department

Duty Death: Delberth I. Phipps Jr. - [St. Thomas]

End of Service: 04/07/2023

By Suzanne Carlson
The Virgin Islands Daily News, St. Thomas

ST. THOMAS, V.I. — Flags across the territory are flying at half-mast Wednesday in honor of 42-year-old V.I. Police Detective Delberth I. Phipps Jr., who was gunned down in the line of duty on St. Thomas Tuesday morning.

The suspect in the shooting, Richardson Dangleben Jr., 51, was already awaiting trial for the Feb. 24 murder of Keith Jennings, and had been released from jail in March after a judge reduced his bail.

The latest case began at around 7:53 a.m. Tuesday, when 911 dispatchers received a report of a man, later identified as Dangleben, wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a gun in the “Jah Yard” area of Hospital Ground, according to police spokesman Glen Dratte.

“Upon officers’ arrival, the suspect fired upon them with a high-powered assault rifle. Responding officers immediately engaged the suspect,” according to the statement from police.

Police said Dangleben “was wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with an assault rifle, handgun, and several hundred rounds of ammunition.”

After police released the statement, Dratte did not immediately respond to questions from The Daily News about further details of the case, including how many officers fired their weapons.

“During the exchange of gunfire, Detective Delberth Phipps, Jr., a 7-year veteran and the suspect were injured. Both were transported to Roy Lester Schneider Regional Medical Center for treatment where Detective Phipps succumbed to his injuries,” police said in the statement.

Police said Dangleben is in custody.

Phipps is the first member of the V.I. Police Department to die in the line of duty since 2012.

His death marks the 23rd homicide in the territory so far this year, including 12 on St. Croix and 11 on St. Thomas.

“Today is that day no department wants to experience. The loss of our Detective, Officer, and Brother has sent ripples through the Department,” Police Commissioner Ray Martinez said in a statement. “Detective Phipps made the ultimate sacrifice to Protect and Serve his community, our community! 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.”

VIPD Police Chief Steven Phillips said Phipps’s death represents a “tremendous loss” for the agency, I am completely lost for words. “We’ve lost a dear colleague” Phillips said. “Detective Phipps, was truly an outstanding Detective and Individual. We are truly heartbroken.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said he is “incensed and deeply saddened by the loss of Detective Delberth Phipps Jr, who was killed in the line of duty this morning. 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.”

According to 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,” Bryan said.

“I have ordered the Virgin Islands Flag to fly at half-staff for one week beginning at sunrise on Wednesday, July 5, in honor of Detective Phipps’ service and sacrifice,” he added.

“I am tremendously saddened to hear of the senseless loss of a member of the Virgin Islands Police Department, Detective Delberth Phipps, Jr. This is a grave reminder of the continual sacrifice that our law enforcement officers and their families make in order to ensure our safety,” V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett said in a statement.

“I send my prayers for comfort and peace to the family and loved ones of Detective Phipps. I also want to send my condolences to all the members of VIPD who operate as a family and are also grieving at this time,” Plaskett added.

Sen. Kenneth Gittens also issued a statement expressing his condolences to Phipps’ family and colleagues.

“I am even more deeply saddened by the fact that this is a tragedy that was possibly preventable in that the suspect in custody was out on bail for another crime,” said Gittens, a former V.I. Police officer who spent 20 years in law enforcement.

“I am very concerned about the continued release of suspects on relatively loose bail conditions that are evidently not adhered to. In addition to the VIPD, the courts and the Department of Justice are the gatekeepers and the community must be protected from those arrested for violent offenses. My anger and sadness at this time are overwhelming,” Gittens added.

Prior to Tuesday’s shooting, Dangleben was arrested on Feb. 24 and charged with first-degree murder and related crimes after he admitted to shooting 68-year-old Jennings in Hospital Ground.

Dangleben called police and said Jennings had approached with a rock in his hand, threatening to kill him, so he fired one shot at Jennings with his licensed firearm, according to the probable cause fact sheet filed by police.

Jennings was transported to Schneider Hospital in a private vehicle where he was pronounced dead from a single gunshot wound to the neck, according to police.

Two of Jennings’ family members who were on the scene disputed Dangleben’s account, and said they didn’t hear an argument or see anything in Jennings’ hand prior to the shooting, according to the fact sheet.

One witness also told police that Dangleben “is dangerous” and they had “filed several police reports” about him, according to the fact sheet.

At his advice-of-rights hearing, Territorial Public Defender Julie Todman emphasized Dangleben’s self-defense claim. She said Dangleben was previously charged with assault, but acquitted at trial in 2008.

“He is not a danger to the community on whole. If he was a danger, he was a danger to the person that has died,” Todman said.

“He did not flee, he waited for the police, and he cooperated with the police when they arrived. That is the signs of someone that respects law enforcement,” Todman added.

Dangleben’s parents, Richardson Dangleben Sr. and Margaret Dangleben, both appeared at the hearing and said they would serve as his third-party custodians. They agreed to monitor Dangleben while he awaits trial, and assured the judge that he would obey the conditions of his pretrial release.

“He is not a violent person, he’s a very nice and very kind person,” Richardson Dangleben Sr. said.

Todman asked that bail be reduced to $75,000. Assistant V.I. Attorney General Madeleine James requested that it remain at $500,000, due to the serious nature of the charges.

V.I. Superior Court Magistrate Judge Paula Norkaitis found probable cause for the murder charges, and initially set bail at $250,000. She also confirmed that police had confiscated the licensed firearm Dangleben had used in the shooting.

Dangleben’s parents offered up their Estate Mariendahl home as surety, but the property was only valued at $160,000, and Dangleben remained jailed.

Territorial Public Defender Alaine Lockhart-Mollah took over the case, and asked the court to reduce Dangleben’s bail to $80,000 on March 2. She also noted that Assistant V.I. Attorney General Brenda Scales objected to the reduction, according to court records.

On March 15, Norkaitis agreed to reduce bail to $80,000 and accepted the $160,000 property as surety, meaning that Dangleben did not have to post any cash in order to be released from jail.

Norkaitis did not require Dangleben to be subject to electronic monitoring or house arrest, but did impose a daily curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., and ordered Dangleben to live with his parents in their home.

Norkaitis set other standard conditions of pretrial release, and ordered Dangleben to stay away from the scene of the shooting in Hospital Ground, and not have any contact with any witnesses in the case.

She also ordered him not to possess any weapons while the case is pending.

In a statement released Tuesday, At-Large Sen. Angel Bolques Jr. said Phipps “gave the ultimate sacrifice” while serving the community.

“Our first responders put themselves on the front lines every time they are called out. We honor their commitment and sometimes take for granted the difficult job they have,” he said.

He added that territorial leaders must continue to fight gun violence, and, “at the end of the day, we want all of these men and women, who selflessly give of themselves, to go home to their families and loved ones. Detective Phipps will no longer be able to do that. His loss leaves a void within his community and the department. Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by this untimely departure.”


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