Just prior to the July 4th celebrations in St. Thomas, a police detective was fatally shot in the Hospital Ground Area. Detective Delberth Phipps Jr. responded to an active 911 call regarding a man wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a firearm. Aged 42 at the time, Detective Phipps was gunned down around 8 am on the 4th of July. 

According to a release by the United States Virgin Islands Police Department, when officers arrived, “the suspect fired upon them with a high-powered assault rifle,” the release said. In the resulting shootout, officers engaged the suspect immediately, which quickly escalated into injuries by Phipps and the suspect. Phipps was transported to Schneider Regional Medical Center for treatment, where he died. 

The suspect, Richardson Dangleben Jr., 50, was apprehended following treatment due to his injuries during the shootout. In that period, Dangleben was released on bail following his murder of St. Thomas resident Keith Jennings earlier this year on February 24. Having shot Jennings also in the Hospital Ground Area, Dangleben was first apprehended on February 26. The next day, Magistrate Judge Paula Norkaitis set his bail at $250,000, later reducing it to $80,000 due to a motion by Dangleben’s public defender. Dangleben’s parents then posted their home as surety and agreed to serve as their son’s custodian while he awaited trial

Despite court orders to stay away from Hospital Ground and not to possess firearms, Dangleben was found on July 4 wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying an AR-15 assault rifle as well as other handguns and their respective ammunition. 

Since then, Police Commissioner Ray Martinez has expressed his condolences over the death of Detective Phipps. “Detective Phipps was truly an outstanding Detective and Individual. We are truly heartbroken.” Martinez said. He also expressed his disapproval of Dagleben’s original bail posting. “Our judges are too lax, they’re too soft when it comes to bail,” he said in a video statement following the incident. “Today’s episode, and many before us, speaks volumes to the fact that our court systems and our judges need to do better when it comes to bail,” said Martinez.

As for Dangleben, he appeared before the US District Court in St. Thomas on July 7 and was charged with first-degree murder and federal unlawful possession of a firearm. The court still has to process this case to trial, but the decision to revoke Dangleben’s bail is currently on the docket. In a motion to revoke bail, the Assistant Attorney General for the US Virgin Islands wrote, “There is no doubt that the defendant is a true danger to the community. In less than six months, the defendant has taken two lives.”

As the local community mourns the loss of both resident Keith Jennings and Police Officer Delberth Phipps Jr., this case is one that residents are closely following. For now, the police department and the attorney general’s office are working to prosecute this case to the full extent of the law.