Fugitive apprehension teams

July 1, 2016

As a citizen, it can be one of life's scariest moments, hearing that a wanted individual is on the loose, possibly in the local community.

Imagine being a police officer, sheriff's deputy, or other law enforcement officer and having to get out there and search for and find that wanted man or woman. It takes fortitude, determination, and expert training, as well as the understanding of what they are up against – a criminal who feels they have nothing left to lose.

Fear, audacity, chutzpah, criminality – all may motivate someone to run from the law. But whether on a county, local, state or federal level, ultimately, the fugitive will be caught, because the web of law enforcement is thick, and the intelligence network is intricate and well-connected. At all levels, there are officers dedicated to hounding down the area’s most dangerous fugitives. 

Wanted by the law, a fugitive is the subject of an arrest warrant. He or she may have failed to show up for court, skipped out on bond, violated conditions of parole or probation, or may be the suspect of some kind of criminal activity. Faced with limited time, money and manpower, apprehension teams prioritize their pursuit of the most violent offenders to those who pose the most significant risk to society. Typically, the fugitives that are subject of an active search are wanted in relation to a homicide or attempted murder; a major assault; rape or other sexual offenses; and drugs. 

Composed of five deputies and one sergeant, Oakland County’s Fugitive Apprehension Team is trained to find those on the lam, along with the U.S. Marshals Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team and the Special Investigations Unit comprised of some local police departments.

“When someone is facing an overwhelming challenge (in court), and the evidence is so high, and the seriousness is so high that there’s no chance in the world that they could beat the case, there’s a large likelihood they’d flee,” said Captain Joe Quisenberry, head of Oakland County’s investigative and forensic services division, which houses the fugitive apprehension team.

“The fugitive (apprehension) team immediately makes it their complete focus in life,” said Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, who has been the county's sheriff since 1999. “They’re some of our most seasoned, capable, determined and successful detectives or police officers. They know they’re looking for people who are very willing to kill people – including the detectives looking for them.”

“Once the warrant is given to us, and we look at the file, we start with their last known addresses, and family members, and we research databases that show when and where contacts might have happened. We review police reports, and from there, we hit the streets looking,” said Quisenberry.

The county’s fugitive apprehension team is responsible for about 600 arrests a year, according to Bouchard, and costs the county $900,000, which is about .6 percent of the department’s $142 million budget.

“(The team) is very productive, and very value adding,” said Major Robert Smith, who oversees law enforcement services for the sheriff’s office. “Once you go through all the effort to get someone, and get a warrant, and they don’t show – there’s a good chance they’re a repeat offender – and if you already spent that much money to get them, then it makes sense to spend a little more and get then back in front of the court.” 

An example of a case the fugitive apprehension team participated in began last November, when a violent home invasion left an elderly Rochester Hills woman duct taped in her suburban living room, a situation from which she remarkably escaped. After she reported the incident to a neighbor who called sheriff's deputies, local media outlets publicized the image of the suspect’s face, and a tip rolled into the county sheriff’s office, that a man fitting the description was spotted near the Rochester Hills Meijer northeast of Adams and Auburn roads.

Acting on the lead, deputies were dispatched to the scene, where they spoke with one Dequantell Jamerson, who agreed to come to the station for questioning.

“We felt pretty confident he did it, but we didn’t have enough evidence to hold him,” said Captain Michael Johnson, commander of the sheriff’s substation in Rochester Hills. Before letting him loose, deputies obtained Jamerson’s glove, which was sent to the Michigan State Police forensics lab for testing. 

By the time detectives got word that DNA of the 77-year-old victim was found on Jamerson’s glove, he had fled. 

“He got into the wind,” said Johnson. “We had no idea where he was. My detectives did spend time looking for him, but were unsuccessful, so we contacted the Oakland County Fugitive Apprehension Team.” 

Created in the late 1980s by former Sheriff John Nichols, the team is a multi-pronged effort to catch fugitives who have fled to or from the area. 

“Most other smaller agencies don’t have the resources (to have a fugitive team), but as long as they’re within Oakland County, they pay Oakland County taxes, and Oakland County funds the fugitive team, we would be the agency to arrest, in any jurisdiction,” Quisenberry said.

Oakland County also has a sheriff’s deputy stationed at the federally led, multiagency Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team (DFAT), one of 60 interagency fugitive-finding teams spearheaded and funded by the U.S. Marshals Service. Considered the nation’s earliest law enforcement agency, the marshal service dates back to 1789, and is currently the primary body charged with tracking down the most dangerous and devious fugitives. 

“The marshals service sponsors this special task force,” said Aaron Garcia, U.S. Marshals’ Supervisory Deputy of DFAT. “We deputize local and state police officers, giving them authority to work as U.S. marshals. We do it as a force multiplier.”

Once deputized, the marshals’ task force officers have limited federal authority for fugitive investigations, which grants officers the right to work across state lines and charge people federally. 

“We continue to search for the guy until he’s in custody or until the warrant is resolved. We don’t just stop looking for someone. Once we determine it’s a task force case, we look for them. Sometimes it’s days or weeks – or 10 years,” said Garcia. “If we’ve exhausted a lot of stuff, we won’t work it as a primary case the whole time, but we’ll continue working on it. But we have cases from eight years ago of guys who’ve fled the county and were trying to get them back.”

The task force frequently provides a “fugitive sweep” if there’s a high rate of crime in a certain area, whether it’s Detroit, Pontiac or Oakland County, said Garcia. “We’ll go in there and target. We do fugitive sweeps all the time, maybe on a monthly basis. We do a three-day round up at least quarterly. It’s a benefit because we often get several other state and locals with us, from other departments in the area. We may do a parole round up and look for all parolees.”

Averaging 273 arrests a day in fiscal year 2015, the U.S. Marshals Service arrested just shy of 100,000 fugitives nationwide, including over 5,000 gang members and nearly 4,000 homicide suspects. They closed nine cases that made the “15 Most Wanted” list, arrested about 11,700 sex offenders who were wanted for sexual assault, non-compliance with the national sex offender registry, and other offenses. 

DFAT, a team of about 50 to 55 deputies who focus on the Eastern District of Michigan, has been responsible for “over 25,000 arrests in the last 10 years,” said Garcia. “Those are violent crimes – rape, drugs, homicide, attempted murder, and include extraditions.” 

A collaborative task force of law enforcement officials from local, state and federal agencies, DFAT includes officers from Detroit, Dearborn, Flint, Livonia and Sterling Heights police departments; deputies from the sheriff’s offices in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw counties; and members of the Michigan State Police, Michigan Department of Corrections, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Each department pays the salary of their officer, but DFAT covers expenses such as overtime pay, vehicles, equipment and training, said Garcia.

When a case that originates in Oakland County is referred to DFAT, “the Oakland County officer (on DFAT) gets assigned that case, and makes requests to U.S. marshals offices around the county,” said deputy Matt Batcheller, of the U.S. Marshals Ann Arbor office. 

Key to the unit’s success is the database of information that each department provides.

“We work with other major cities who have fugitive task forces. We can reach out to task forces across the country, and say, ‘Hey, can you go to that house,’ and they already have someone. We call it a collateral lead,” said Batcheller, referring to the report that is sent to fugitive apprehension teams around the nation.

Knowing that officers were on to him and had already obtained a glove worn in the assaultive Rochester Hills home invasion, suspect Jamerson had good reason to flee the nearly 2,000 miles he traveled to reach Arizona. He was apprehended in May, and upon his extradition to Michigan, Jamerson was interviewed by Rochester Hills detectives, and ultimately confessed to the crime. 

“Once he is brought back into custody, and brought back to the state of Michigan and to our jail by our fugitive apprehension team, then our detectives do the arraignment before the judge, and bring witnesses forward for testimony at the preliminary exam. They’re still the officer in charge of the case – they just stepped away from it during the time the fugitive team (is working the case),” said Quisenberry, of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. “The fact that we can hand it off to someone to go make the arrest is a thing of beauty; to hand it off to someone you know will take it up and work it until the end.” 

A violent serial offender released on parole, Kevin Jermaine Wiley quickly became the subject of a three-week manhunt after family members of his girlfriend, Marie Colburn, found her lifeless 30-year-old body shoved in the closet of her Pontiac apartment. 

Located by U.S. Marshals in Elizabethtown, Kentucky this May, Wiley faces charges of first-degree murder in her suffocation death. Colburn was a Baker College graduate and member of the 2004 class of Lakeland High School, in White Lake.

After discovering on April 19th that Wiley had cut his tether, his parole officer put a notice in the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) for Wiley’s violation of his early release. The same day, Colburn was killed, and discovered three days later by her family. Detectives began aggressively looking for Wiley, and soon contacted the county’s fugitive apprehension team for additional support. 

“Once they knew there was new behavior on Wiley’s part, and law enforcement found her body, they notified DOC (the Michigan Department of Corrections) immediately because he was on parole. We issued a warrant nationwide while they were looking for him within the first few hours, putting the puzzle together,” said Lieutenant Charles Levens, supervisor of MDOC’s parole absconder recovery unit, and a member of DFAT. “It could have been several days before a warrant for murder was issued, but we’re able to issue a warrant immediately for violating parole, with the purpose of investigating.”

Contributing ten officers to DFAT, the MDOC’s parole absconder recovery unit is a key player in tracking down fugitives.

“One thing we really bring to the table is the background information,” said Levens. “We have a huge database on these guys. When they go to prison, we get background information on who raised them, their criminal history – we already have all that. We know who visits them, and that’s someone close. We know who sends them money, and that’s someone who’s really close to him. Why waste time with an aunt he wasn’t close to if we know he’s really close to his stepsister? We bring a wealth of data and background.”

In 2009, MDOC had 2,500 parole absconders statewide, but by 2016, the number dropped significantly, and currently hovers at around 1,100 absconders, according to Levens. “We started working with the U.S. Marshals task force, adding MDOC personnel to the absconder unit and task force. In six years, we’ve cut (the number of absconders) in half. The task force concept works.”

U.S. Marshal Robert Grubbs, of Michigan’s Eastern District, initiated DFAT in 2004, after joining forces proved to be a successful enterprise during the hunt for a man who shot and killed a Sterling Heights police officer that year.

Eventually cornered by law enforcement officers in Jacksonville Florida, the accused, Timothy Berner, took his own life, and, Grubbs vowed to bring together local, state, and federal agencies to pool resources, manpower and experience in the effort to get severely violent offenders off the street.

Prior to the creation of DFAT, “every police agency had their own fugitive team, and the U.S. Marshals had their fugitive team,” said Garcia, who’s been on the task force since its inception.

Major Robert Smith of the sheriff’s office served on the county’s team in its early days, and recalled the former arrangement. “The prosecutor had some investigators that worked for him that were deputized, and we had our own detective bureau. We had times that we wanted to look for someone, and it takes a certain amount of manpower, and so it evolved into a combination of our people, that focused on persons that jumped bail on (Oakland County’s) Sixth Circuit Court or violated parole or probation or had warrants.” 

Johnson, of the Rochester Hills substation, also used to be on the fugitive apprehension team, serving for four years in the 1990s. “There were four assigned from the sheriff’s

(office), and four from the prosecutor’s office. The chief investigator from the prosecutor’s office was the boss,” said Johnson. “Over the years, it morphed. If you knew someone was in another state, we would reach out to the police departments at other locations.” 

Although the Oakland County Fugitive Apprehension Team is willing and able to assist any police department within the county, it’s not always necessary. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which operates out of the Troy Police Department, is a collaborative team composed of officers from the Troy, Birmingham, Bloomfield Township, Auburn Hills, and Royal Oak police departments. Dedicated to locating criminal suspects, the SIU allows for a thorough and timely investigation to be conducted, while maintaining affordability for these local departments.

Once the investigation has been worked to a point where a police department has probable cause to arrest someone, the SIU can be utilized for surveillance and capture. 

“These guys are trained in locating and apprehending fugitives. These are the people I would call first, before the county,” said Birmingham Police Department Chief Mark Clemence. “The county is great because they have access to resources we don’t, but I can’t think of a recent time when we used the (county) fugitive apprehension team. It’s been a while. The (SIU) will arrest the person for the detective, similar to what the fugitive apprehension team does for the county.”

Similar to how DFAT officers are deputized as U.S. marshals in order to work across state lines, the officers on SIU are deputized by the county’s sheriff’s department, which grants them arrest powers outside of their home jurisdiction. 

“There are a lot of different crimes that cross jurisdictional boundaries. We learned that by sharing notes and communicating with each other that the same crimes were happening in Troy as were happening here,” said Clemence. “We compare notes and find that we're looking at the same people. We said, ‘Let’s focus in, and work together,’ and what this unit does is look for identified suspects and target those people for a follow up.”

Recalling the 2014 shooting of a Bloomfield Hills attorney, Bloomfield Hills Public Safety Chief David Hendrickson said, “To locate suspects, we utilized special investigations to find people. We quickly had dozens of detectives working on it. We identified several suspects quickly and we were able to make arrests and get people off the street within days. It was a team effort between different departments’ personnel and resources.”

The multiagency SIU, which conducts electronic and visual surveillance, made a swift arrest in the suspect of the March slaying of a Troy mother while she was at home in her apartment at Somerset Park Apartments. After the investigators developed a suspect, SIU was put to work, and within 12 hours the team had Charles Anthony Stephens in custody. 

“He was in a house, I don’t recall why he was at that house, but it was in Detroit. He was charged with homicide and is awaiting trail in circuit court,” said Scott McCanham, captain of investigations for Bloomfield Township Police Department, which staffs one full-time officer at the SIU office in Troy.

“He’s assigned (at SIU) for two years, and he’s our liaison with our detective bureau, so anything we may develop out of our bureau, he’ll take it to SIU, and when they assign a priority to it, they will work it as they see fit – they have multiple cases going on at one time.”

It’s not guaranteed that SIU will take on a police department’s case; rather, officers would talk it over with Troy commanders, who then conduct an assessment to determine if the case is right for the team, and where it would fall on the proverbial priority list. If the case involves a particularly violent crime, and the suspect is deemed to be extremely dangerous, the police department may call in the Oakland County Fugitive Apprehension Team instead.

“If we believe SIU can handle the case, they may assist us in picking up somebody, but in rare circumstances we’ve use Oakland County FAT. We’ve used both,” said McCanham. 

“Oakland County FAT is more well-suited for the potential of more violent crimes, that’s my opinion. We can send SIU, whereas Oakland County FAT would go outside Oakland County boundaries. Special investigations or FAT tries to do our best to notify another jurisdiction that we’ll be operating in their jurisdiction. Both teams run surveillance prior to taking any action, so they can take (the suspect) down at a time that they deem with a smaller chance of any more violence, or that person fleeing – to minimize any type of danger to the person or our officers.”

Chief Steven Schettenhelm of the Rochester Police Department recalled when the city utilized the county’s fugitive apprehension team in 2012 after a man used a sledgehammer to break into a jewelry case before escaping with thousands of dollars in merchandise. 

“It was a smash and grab situation at a jewelry store. The individual smashed out the jewelry case to obtain Rolex watches, and ran out the door,” said Schettenhelm. “We identified a suspect, obtained a warrant, and through (the team’s) efforts, were able to get that person to turn himself in. It was only through their efforts of getting out into Detroit and the area. It became known to him that he would be arrested. He was in Detroit, and they were trying a number of places looking for him, and family members convinced him that it was in his best interested to turn himself in.”

Schettenhelm, who’s been with Rochester for eight years, echoed the sentiment of other local police departments in saying, “We try to look at the gravity of the crime, and location, and see what team has the best set of resources that meets that need. It’s always great to have resources available. That’s their area of expertise, and once detectives reach a dead end or could use that assistance, it’s great to pick up the phone.”

The consensus among officers on a manhunt is that they’re limited only by their imagination. They’ve experienced hours and hours of searching – between walls, in attics, and even refrigerators – gunning down fugitives from their hiding spots. 

“The guys we’re going after are violent. A lot have a huge criminal history,” said the U.S. Marshals' Garcia. And a lot of those on the run are looking at the prospect of being locked up for a long time. 

“They flee, they hide in places you’d never imagine. We make sure we’re well-equipped. We always make sure we have an overwhelming number of law enforcement officers. When we know where you’re at, we’re coming with overwhelming power.” ­

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