Public opinion is deeply divided over an incident Saturday at Spratnet Beach Bar on St. Croix, which resulted in a Health Department officer charging a woman with a hate crime.
Nathalie Hollins and James Bildahl were both arrested after V.I. Director of Environmental Health Wanson Harris said they assaulted him while he was trying to cite a bartender for failing to wear a face mask.
While some have assumed that both Hollins and Bildahl are white, many Crucians have taken to social media to defend Hollins, arguing that she was born and raised on St. Croix and is herself a Black woman.
Harris wrote in the probable cause fact sheet he filed in V.I. Superior Court that while he was issuing a warning citation to the bartender, “the customers at the bar, who were apparently accompanying her, became irate and started making racial remarks by calling me a ‘black monkey.’”
Harris wrote that “a Caucasian female, who later identified herself as Nathalie Hollins, then approached me, and threw what appeared to be her beer on my person while yelling, ‘Get your black ass from here!’”
A Superior Court clerk confirmed Wednesday that “the arrest report for Ms. Hollins indicates that she is ‘Caucasian.’”
Harris said that while attempting to arrest Hollins for assaulting him, “a Caucasian male individual later identified as Mr. James Bildahl” joined the fray and “continued to pull Ms. Hollins and struck me a few times about the face,” according to the probable cause fact sheet.
Hollins was charged with third-degree assault, throwing bodily fluid or waste at a person and interfering with an officer discharging his duty. She was charged pursuant to the Hate Motivated Crimes Act, meaning that the underlying offenses were “committed due to hate-motivated intent,” according to the V.I. Code.
Bildahl was arrested Sunday and charged with third-degree assault and interfering with an officer discharging his duty, but was not charged with a hate crime.
At an advice-of-rights hearing Monday, a judge found probable cause for all charges — including the hate crime filed against Hollins — but reduced her third-degree assault charge to the lesser crime of aggravated assault and battery, according to the clerk’s office.
Both Hollins and Bildahl were held on an initial $25,000 bail, and Hollins was released upon posting 10% of a reduced bail amount of $7,500 after Monday’s hearing, according to the clerk.
Bildahl’s bail was reduced to $1,000 and he was released after posting 10% and ordered not to enter Spratnet bar.
Videos of the encounter circulating online show Hollins kicking Harris and hitting him with her shoe. While some have pointed out that no racist remarks can be heard, others argue that the videos do not show the full extent of the encounter.
What is also clear is that Harris was not wearing a mask while in proximity to Hollins and other patrons crowded around the incident.
V.I. Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor told The Daily News in an email Wednesday that “the expectation is that all enforcement personnel adhere to the health mandates and guidance, while utilizing best practices — facial masks, social distancing, and hand washing.”
He added that law enforcement personnel have been issued PPE and advised to use them and that “daily temperature checks of law enforcement personnel is also conducted.”
“Test for COVID-19 has been provided upon request and based on assessment by the Department of Health professionals. The welfare and safety of all our personnel is of great concern,” he wrote.
Government House Communications Director Richard Motta Jr. also responded to questions from The Daily News and said Harris was not required to wear a face mask because he was outside of the bar during the encounter.
“The COVID task force has conducted numerous enforcement operations since March, and this incident is, unfortunately, the first time an officer was ever assaulted or confronted with violence. Every peace officer in the territory who is a member of the COVID-19 task force is adequately trained and equipped to conduct these enforcement operations,” Motta wrote in an email.
Further, he noted that “while all law enforcement officers in the territory, including the peace officers who comprise our COVID task force, bravely assume the inherent risks of their jobs, none, including Mr. Harris, plan for violent confrontations from individuals in our community, and respectfully, we should not excuse the wrongful actions of this lady and that of other individuals in our community by intimating, absent of clear evidence of wrongdoing that officer Harris and others are at fault for bravely putting themselves at risk while trying to protect our community.”