A former V.I. Police officer was charged with domestic violence assault after a woman said he choked her and tried to break her arm, according to an affidavit filed by V.I. Police.
The former officer, Orlando Benitez Jr., was arrested Sunday evening and charged with second-degree assault and simple assault and battery.
Benitez was charged pursuant to the territory’s domestic violence statute, which requires a defendant be held without bail until a judge reviews the case.
Officers booked Benitez. But before he was jailed, V.I. Superior Court Judge Jomo Meade ordered Benitez be released at the request of defense attorney Yohana Manning, according to the affidavit. He was released on an unsecured bond, meaning he did not have to post any cash.
Benitez appeared in court for his advice-of-rights hearing Monday, where Magistrate Judge Miguel Camacho said he may remain free while he awaits trial, but ordered him to post $1,000 cash bail.
The incident occurred Sunday at around 9:51 a.m. when police received a call from a woman reporting an assault in Frederiksted, St. Croix.
Officers responded and the victim said she and Benitez had gotten into an argument that escalated into a child custody dispute, and he assaulted her in frustration, according to an affidavit filed by police.
The victim said Benitez used his hands to squeeze her neck until she struggled to breathe, and while she was holding a child, he grabbed her hand “and forcefully twisted as if he wanted to break her arm,” according to the affidavit.
Benitez gave a statement to police in which he said the alleged victim was actually the aggressor.
Benitez said that when she raised her hand to strike him, “due to his prior law enforcement training, he reacted to the aggressive gesture by grabbing her hand in a wrist lock,” according to the affidavit.
Benitez told police he walked away from the encounter, and did not mention choking or hitting the victim.
But three children who were also in the home told police they saw Benitez hurt the victim, and “one of the children demonstrated the manner in how Mr. Benitez strangled the victim,” according to the affidavit.
In response to questions from The Daily News, V.I. Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor said Tuesday that Benitez was employed as a police officer starting in February 2005.
He was dismissed on Dec. 8, 2016, after more than a decade of service, but Velinor and V.I. Police Department spokesman Toby Derima would not say why Benitez was fired from the department.