SEATTLE - Nearly 50,000 Washington state criminals and suspects are on the run, hiding either in-state or somewhere around the world. All of them have warrants for their arrest, but a vast majority will never see the inside of a prison cell, even when police know where they are, because the cost of justice is simply too high.
KIRO 7 learned about a man wanted for a rape in Washington state who is now thousands of miles away. The US Marshal Service knows exactly where he is, but agents haven’t picked him up yet because there is no money for his extradition.
This lack of funding frustrates Tom Lanier, Chief Inspector of The Sex Offender Investigations Branch for the US Marshal Service.
“It’s hard knowing that you’ve gone out of your way to locate very dangerous criminals and someone above your pay grade has decided to leave them out there,” said Lanier.
Lanier supervises a fugitive task force that arrests people wanted on warrants in Washington state. But Lanier says when a fugitive crosses state lines, his team can't always go get him or her.
Reporter Amy Clancy: "Why not?"
Lanier: “Money. It all comes down, I think, to resources and finances.”
Lanier said the state of Washington once had an extradition fund, but now extradition costs fall mostly on individual counties. Some counties budget for the expense, but others do not.
Snohomish County has the lowest extradition rate in the state. When its deputies file a warrant, only 7% of those warrants are registered in the national database, called the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC. Which means if 93% of Snohomish County criminals are pulled over out of state for speeding or some other minor infraction, the out of state officer has no idea that person is currently wanted for a possibly violent crime.
Sheriff Lovick himself had no idea his county was, in effect, asking for only 7% of its wanted criminals be sent back. He described his reaction upon hearing the news recently.
“You’ve got to be kidding me that, if they leave this state, they’re free to go? And that is something that would shock the consciousness of all of us,” said Lovick.
Lovick believes most citizens have no idea justice comes at a price.
“They don’t know that if (criminals) leave the area, that most jurisdictions can’t afford to bring them back,” he said.
But as soon as Lovick learned just how low Snohomish County's extradition rates were, he appealed to the county council, which immediately found $20,000 to fund efforts to bring Snohomish County criminals back to face justice. However, that money will only pay to bring about seven of the county's nearly 3,000 wanted fugitives back.
Other counties in Washington do better when it comes to extradition. King County enters 35% of its warrants in NCIC, the national database. Pierce and Clark Counties, 92%.
Clancy asked Snohomish County Prosecutor, Mark Roe, about the county’s relatively low NCIC rate of 7%.
Clancy: "I just assumed that if you had a guy and you knew who he was and where he was …"
Mark Roe: “You go fetch him, right?”
Roe: “Yeah, first you’ve got to check your wallet.”
“We’ve had to make some tough choices on what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do. And what we’re going to charge and what we’re not going to charge. And who we’re going to fetch and who we’re not going to fetch.”
But Lanier of the US Marshal Service believes counties, including Snohomish, don't want to spend money on extradition because they don't want violent criminals back. He tells KIRO 7 there are more victims because of “fugitives that we’ve left out there, where we knew where they were, that went on to commit further crime because someone here didn’t want them back and didn’t want to pay for it, and that’s wrong. It’s just wrong.”
Washington state does have reciprocal extradition agreements with most nearby states. On the day KIRO 7 rode along with Lanier’s fugitive task force, its officers arrested 58-year-old Terry Pollard, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in Oregon more than a decade ago.
As he was being taken away in handcuffs, Clancy asked Pollard if he thought law enforcement had forgotten about his warrant, all these years later.
“Oh, absolutely not. No. I haven’t forgotten about it (either),” said Pollard.
John Price hasn’t forgotten the pain of being victimized and believes all criminals should be extradited, no matter where they’ve run; no matter when. Price was repeatedly raped as a child, and his attackers were never arrested. He believes law enforcement should “go after the ones who run. Go after the ones who assault and then disappear.”
Price tells Clancy, “whether it takes them to another state, another city, or even another country. Get them back here and make them face justice. It is time for this mess to stop.”
But in order for that to happen, Lovick, Roe and Lanier all agree: money is desperately needed. And they all believe this issue is something state lawmakers will have to tackle, and individual counties will have to write into budgets.
They also all agree that the criminals already know that once they cross state lines, they’re often home free, especially the smartest criminals, who are often the most dangerous.