Suspect Arrested in Supreme Court Justice Machete Robbery


Official portrait of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer.

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Police on the Caribbean island of Nevis said Monday they have a suspect in custody in the recent armed robbery of vacationing Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Sgt. Cledwyn Jeffers of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force said 28-year-old Vedel Browne turned himself in Sunday, after officials declared him “a person of interest,” and released his photo to the media. Browne has not been officially charged, authorities said.

Breyer, his wife, her sister, and another guest were in the justice’s vacation home February 9 when an intruder armed with a machete broke in and robbed the occupants of about $1,000. Officials said no one was hurt in the incident.

The male assailant fled the scene, according to court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg. The robbery was reported to local authorities shortly after it happened. Breyer and his family have since returned home. The justice attended a dinner last week with Vice President Joe Biden and the visiting Chinese vice president.

Police officials in a news release said Browne has worked as a gardener and Jeffers described him as a “Rastafarian.” Law enforcement received his identity from informants, but it is unclear why Browne was suspected for investigation.

A local law enforcement official had said the evidence indicated the incident was “a crime of opportunity,” and that police have seen nothing so far to indicate Breyer was targeted for robbery.

There was no immediate reaction to the arrest from Breyer’s office or U.S. federal law enforcement.

The U.S. Marshals Service provides protection for members of the high court when they are traveling domestically, and agency spokesman Jeff Carter said last week the agency was “aware of the incident involving Justice Breyer on the Caribbean island of Nevis and is assisting the Supreme Court Police and local law enforcement authorities with the investigation as needed.” He did not elaborate.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said after the robbert, “We are assisting the local police with their investigation.”

Commissioner C.G. Walwyn of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force had said, “Our American-trained crime scene investigators and the members of our Criminal Investigators (unit) are working closely with the FBI on this case,” he added.

Breyer has had no comment on the matter. The high court resumes public sessions Tuesday, after a month-long recess.

Nevis is part of the West Indies chain known as the Leeward Islands, located about 350 miles southeast of Puerto Rico.

The court does not talk publicly about specific security arrangements for the justices, either when they are at home or on their frequent travels. During the court’s break, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg traveled to Egypt and Tunisia last month as part of an outreach program sponsored by the State Department, which provided her security in the volatile region.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor traveled to Guam and Hawaii, and Justice Antonin Scalia gave a speech in Chicago.

Attacks on members of the federal judiciary are rare, but not new. Then-Justice David Souter was assaulted by a group of young males in 2004 while jogging alone in the evening near his Washington home. Souter suffered some minor bruises and was briefly treated then released from a local hospital.

Justice Byron White was attacked in July 1982 while giving a speech in Utah. That incident led to regular protection by U.S. marshals for members of the court when they travel.

The 73-year-old Breyer was nominated to the high court in 1994, and is known as one of the most active and engaging members of the court. His wife is Dr. Joanna Breyer, a renowned pediatric psychologist.

(By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer, CNN’s Nigel Walwyn, Carol Cratty and Nick Valencia contributed to this report.)

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