The ATF has so much on its plate these days. When it’s not facilitating running guns to ultra-violent Mexican drug cartels, failing to identify potentially dangerous individuals or insinuating themselves into local police departments, they’re making it hard for fishermen to shoo pesky pinnipeds. So maybe it’s understandable that, with such a full plate, they’d try to lighten their bureaucratic load a little. But if you had nation-wide jurisdiction and wanted to cut an area loose, would it be the Virgin Islands?
That’s right, the ATF has refused to operate in the Virgin Islands for more than two years. If you were going to pick a jurisdiction to abandon in the US, would it be the St. Thomas office? Wouldn’t Nome, Newark or maybe Detroit be higher on that list?
You betcha. So there has to be a good reason why the fine public servants at ATF have told the people of the Caribbean territory to pound sand. There is. At least in their twisted world view.
One of their VI-stationed agents, William Clark, became involved in a neighbor’s domestic dispute and ended up emptying his gun into the husband. He claimed self-defense. The feds investigated, at one point almost resulting in a brawl with the locals. The shoot was ruled justified and the feds cleared him.
The local prosecutor wasn’t buying it, though, and charged Clark with second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. There’s a question about protection federal agents have when operating in the scope of their job. But territorial law doesn’t recognize ATF agents as law enforcement officers. There’s also the matter of Clark being off duty at the time of the shooting.
So how did the ATF react to all of this? By pulling all their agents out of the territory, of course. That’s right, they decided to boycott and haven’t operated there since November of 2008. No other federal agency has pulled their people, even with the unresolved question about legal protection.
Clark ultimately got off on a technicality “based on the fact that prosecutors did not present evidence properly identifying the body of the victim.” But that hasn’t cut any ice with ATF.
No, ATF wants what amounts to local law enforcement authority protection before they put their huaraches on and head back to paradise. There’s a proposal in the Virgin Islands legislature to grant that, but it’s stalled and doesn’t look to be going anywhere soon.
Now there are more than a few parts of the country that would consider an ATF boycott more of a feature than a bug. If they decided to take their ball and go home, a lot of locals would probably line up to help them pack. So the Virgin Islands is now an ATF-free zone. Is there a way to expand this without more, you know, gunfire?