WASHINGTON — Nearly 11,000 sex offenders, gang members and other fugitives were swept up in what the Justice Department on Thursday called a sting targeting the “worst of the worst” criminals on the run.
Last week’s roundup, led by the U.S. Marshals Service, included Allen Marksberry, an unregistered sex offender in Rickman, Tenn., who was baby-sitting several young children when he was arrested on Oct. 24.
Also nabbed were Demetrius Avery Jackson, an accused cop killer in Birmingham, Ala., and Eric Dewayne Meneese, a Crips gang member, in Nashville, Tenn.
Fugitive killed in sweep
The weeklong sting, code-named Operation Falcon III, also led to the shooting death of a Georgia fugitive who was killed by authorities as he came out of his house, officials said. Additionally, the neighbor of a fugitive in Florida fired — but missed — police approaching her home. Both incidents are under investigation, said John F. Clark, director of the Marshals Service.
The roundup, in 24 states east of the Mississippi River, targeted “the worst of the worst fugitive felons in the country,” Attorney General Albert Gonzales said at a Washington news conference.
“America’s neighborhoods are safer today, thanks to Operation Falcon III,” Gonzales said.
Two earlier stings — Falcons I and II — were held in April over the last two years. Gonzales and Clark denied that next week’s elections played any part in scheduling the latest crackdown.
“I can assure you that the coordination of getting 3,000-plus officers and agents, and everybody together to do this, just takes a lot of coordination,” Clark said, adding that he wanted to do the roundup in the fall — before the winter weather hit.
Variety of criminals rounded up
In all, Gonzales said officials caught 10,733 fugitives — including 1,659 sex offenders, 364 gang members and thousands of others sought on kidnapping, robbery, burglary, carjacking and weapons charges. More than 230 weapons were seized.
Those totals represent a fraction of doors knocked on, liquor store drive-bys, construction site surveillances and tips chased down by agents during the weeklong sweep. Finding the fugitives — even at their homes in the early-morning hours — proved to be a hit-or-miss mission for the federal, state and local authorities.
A six-hour sting in Washington, D.C., last Thursday morning, for example, netted none of the accused drug dealers sought by a team of seven agents from the U.S. Marshals, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, State Department and the city’s Metropolitan Police Department.
“He was there a week or so ago,” muttered Marshals Inspector Robert Hoffmaster, after a pre-daybreak search of a house for an accused drug dealer.
Focus on protecting children
In upstate New York, some fugitives tried to hide in unusual places.
“We grabbed one guy out of the shower,” said Joe Ciccarelli, supervisor of the U.S. Marshals fugitive task force in New York’s northern district. “We found people hiding in between insulation, rolled up in rugs, inside of cabinets, inside of closets that a person shouldn’t be able to fit in, but they end up fitting in and we have had to call the fire department to get them out.”
Of the sex offenders nabbed, 971 had failed to register with authorities as required by law — what Gonzales called the largest number ever captured in a single law enforcement effort.
Gonzales said prosecutors likely would seek to charge some of them under the 2006 Adam Walsh Act. That law, approved by Congress last summer, created federal penalties for sex offenders who fail register with communities.
The law was named for six-year-old Adam Walsh, who was abducted from a Florida shopping mall and murdered in 1981.
Falcon III showed the Marshals “have proven their extraordinary ability to quickly capture thousands of sexual predators,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Normally, the Marshals regional task forces round up about 1,000 fugitives each week, officials said. An estimated 1 million fugitives are on the loose nationwide.
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