Thousands of WA fugitives unlikely to face justice

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on March 11, 2014 at 11:21 PM

Sex offender Michael Stanley will be back on Seattle’s streets soon, even though he cut off his GPS tracking unit and escaped justice.

Prosecutors in King County have no choice but to release the habitual offender because authorities in Canada, from which Stanley escaped last year, said they don’t want him back.

It isn’t just a Canadian thing. The American justice system is also full of stories where fugitive felons are caught, but the state where they committed their crimes has no interest in bringing them back.

A review of the federal government’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database shows that Washington State has 2,753 active felony warrants for which local authorities might not seek extradition – i.e. bring the suspect back to face charges here – even if caught in another state.

Records reviewed by KING 5 -- and our news partner USA Today -- show prosecutors checked a box on those warrants that they would not extradite the suspect from all 50 states – even though they’ve issued the nationwide warrant.

[Read USA Today's special report: A license to commit crime]

Whatcom county had more of these limited extradition warrants than any other Washington county -- a total of 681 active felony warrants in NCIC. Of those, 669 have extradition limits, meaning that prosecutors might not bring back the offender if caught in another state.

“It’s an incredibly expensive process,” said Whatcom County prosecutor David McEachran. “For me to bring someone from another state it’s at least a couple thousand dollars.”

Among the limited extradition warrants from Whatcom County are some with serious charges. Twenty-six of the limited extradition warrants are for sex crimes, and 36 are for suspects wanted in violent crimes.

“Those (nearly) 70 cases are linked to information where we have limited the warrant,” said McEachran. “Now if we get a call from Florida, or we get a call from Missouri, that will go to law enforcement and we’ll decide then. If it’s a violent person and we have a case, we’re gonna go get them.”

But police and prosecutors admit that they might not be notified by another state if NCIC shows that the warrant is not a 50 state warrant.

McEachran said his warrants are usually limited to states surrounding Washington, because extradition from neighboring states costs less. “We can limit it to Idaho, to Montana, to Oregon,” he said.

In addition to Whatcom County’s nearly 700 warrants, records show that Kitsap County has nearly 400 limited extradition warrants and Pierce County has 331 limited extradition warrants, including 31 for violent or sex crimes.

[Interactive map: See how many non-extradition warrants are on record from you Washington state county.]

The Washington Department of Corrections has 651 warrants in NCIC in which it will not extradite from all 50 states – including eight warrants for fugitive murder convicts.

Cop killer Maurice Clemmons is an example of one state’s refusal to extradite its wanted felons.  Arkansas refused to take him back for a parole violation in the months before he gunned down four Lakewood police officers in 2009.

The executive director of the National District Attorneys Association agrees that giving far flung fugitives such a break isn’t right.

“To charge someone, especially with a serious offense, and then later say we’re not going to bring that person back and prosecute them, I am dumfounded.  It is unconscionable,” said Scott Burns.

USA Today found more than 186,000 felons in NCIC who fit that category. The federal government refused to release names or specific case information related to those warrants, a decision that is under appeal by the newspaper.

Whatcom County’s prosecutor sees another problem with the system – too many states that list on their warrant paperwork that they’ll take and suspect back and then renege once that offender is caught. McEachran said it happens all the time at the Canadian border in his county, where fugitives from all over are caught sneaking out of the country. Each case taxes Whatcom County police and prosecutors.

“We in Whatcom County pay those bills and then the demanding state will say, ‘you know what?  We don’t think we want him,’” said McEachran.

It’s clear that prosecutors all over the country have different ways of looking at how to best handle their resources.

“The system has to be fixed and we need to sit down with prosecutors, with law enforcement, with funders, with legislators and address this problem because there is no explanation,” said Burns, whose association represents 39,000 prosecutors nationwide.

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