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The Wall Street Journal July 19, 2010

An Islands Case Resonates in State


WASHINGTON — New York lawmakers are speaking out on behalf of a federal agent from upstate New York who is facing a murder charge in the U.S. Virgin Islands for shooting a man who was involved in an angry confrontation with his girlfriend.

Supporters of William Clark say he acted to protect the woman's life and his own, but prosecutors charge he used excessive force in a situation that did not require him to fire his weapon. Besides the disputed facts of the case, it has also raised novel legal questions on an island paradise beset by violent crime.

The incident began on a Sunday morning in September 2008, when Mr. Clark—a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives—intervened in a domestic dispute between two neighbors in a parking lot.

The agent's defenders say he was forced to fire on an enraged, naked man who had been drinking. The man, Marcus Sukow, was brandishing a heavy metal flashlight like a weapon, according to Mr. Clark's lawyers. Prosecutors say Mr. Sukow was unarmed and did not pose an immediate threat to Mr. Clark or the woman.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y) and Rep. Christopher Lee, a Republican whose district includes the Rochester area where Mr. Clark grew up, say they are concerned the agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is not getting a fair shake from the local police and prosecutors.

"It seems like a poor use of resources—and even worse, an injustice—to prosecute a federal agent who has been cleared by a review board for his conduct in a tragic situation. I hope for his family's sake, and the sake of federal-territorial relations, that this situation is resolved quickly and fairly," Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Lee plans to offer a resolution on the House floor as early as Monday defending the agent.

"His actions were heroic, not criminal,'' Mr. Lee wrote to fellow lawmakers.

He also takes issue with a finding by the local court that the federal law sometimes invoked when federal agents use force, called the supremacy clause, does not apply to the U.S. Virgin Islands because it is a territory, not a state.

Under the supremacy clause, federal law-enforcement officers may not be prosecuted in state court for acts found to be authorized by U.S. law, if the act is judged to have been necessary.

The congressman's effort is opposed by the U.S. Virgin Islands' representative to Congress, who says Mr. Lee is politicizing the case and disrespecting the island's court system.

"I really take exception to the condescending or denigrating way in which our courts and our police have been painted,'' said Delegate Donna Christensen, who called the case "an unfortunate situation'' but added: "On the surface, it seems like it was excessive force.''

The dispute has grown so heated between federal and local law-enforcement officials that the ATF has pulled its four agents out of the islands. Federal law enforcement agencies don't have much of a presence on the islands, but the possible fallout from the case worries those on both sides, who say that the islands need all the help they can get to fight gun violence. Last year, the murder rate there was about eight times the national average, according to local police and FBI data.

Jon Adler, head of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents agents from the ATF and other offices, said the remaining federal agents on the island "are in stand down. They're not responding to local situations. Our position is we should pull all of our law-enforcement assets out of there immediately.''

Mr. Clark is on active duty in the U.S. while he awaits a trial scheduled for October.

Posted : July 19, 2010 7:06 pm
Posts: 2552
Famed Member

I think the US should cut off all funds to the territory until they change the law to align with all of the states in regards to this.

Posted : July 19, 2010 7:29 pm
Posts: 615
Honorable Member

Maybe a bunch of us should sign a petition to get the New York Congressmen to push a bill declaring the supremacy clause in ALL U.S. territories.

Posted : July 19, 2010 7:32 pm
Posts: 353
Reputable Member

Call both Lee's and Shumer's office and let them know that there are people here who do support this agent and the findings of the board. This case needs to be taken out of the territoriy's hands. They are looking for a scapegoat fed.....For Christiansen to say "it appears he used excessive force" is exactly why it needs to be moved. She has no $%&*( clue what happened and shoud keep quiet about this!!

Posted : July 21, 2010 10:22 pm
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