Thursday, November 2, 2006

Nearly 11,000 “worst of the worst fugitives in the country” were arrested this week in raids in 24 states as part of a law-enforcement initiative to apprehend violent criminals, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said yesterday.

Deputy U.S. marshals, assisted by state and local police, arrested 1,659 sex offenders, 364 gang members and thousands of others sought on kidnapping, robbery, burglary, carjacking and weapons charges.

“I am confident in saying that America’s neighborhoods are safer today thanks to … the devoted individuals who carried out its work,” Mr. Gonzales said at a Justice Department press conference.

The third phase of the initiative, known as “Operation FALCON” (Federal And Local Cops Organized Nationally), focused on sex offenders and gang members in jurisdictions east of the Mississippi River, including Virginia, Maryland and the District.

Mr. Gonzales said convicted sex offender Allen Marksberry was taken into custody in Rickman, Tenn., for violating his probation. At the time of his arrest, he said investigators discovered Marksberry — who failed to register in Tennessee as a sex offender — had been babysitting three young children.

A search of his home, the attorney general said, resulted in the seizure of a loaded handgun, quantities of marijuana and veterinarian narcotics, police scanners and pornographic photographs, including a picture of Marksberry holding a partially nude young girl.

He said investigators also found a travel trailer behind the home, which provided its occupant with a clear view of a local playground. Inside the trailer, he said, investigators found a pair of binoculars.

Also arrested were Demetrius A. Jackson, accused of killing a police officer in Birmingham, Ala., and Eric D. Meneese, a Crips gang member, in Nashville, Tenn. The operation also led to the shooting death of a Georgia fugitive, killed by authorities as he came out of his house.

The Marshals Service has significantly increased its apprehension of fugitives over the past few years with the creation of five regional task forces to target violent offenders.

Mr. Gonzales and Marshals Service Director John F. Clark said the raids were not designed to coincide with next week’s midterm elections.

“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,” Mr. Clark said, adding that he wanted to carry out the raids before winter weather arrived.

The regional task forces were created under the Presidential Threat Protection Act of 2000 to combine the efforts of federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies in locating and apprehending the most dangerous fugitives and assist in high-profile investigations. They are divided into five areas: New York/New Jersey, the Pacific Southwest, the Great Lakes, the Southeast and the Capital Area, which targets the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Operation FALCON I was conducted in April 2005 and netted more than 10,300 fugitives. Operation FALCON II went into action this year, also in April, targeting much of the western half of the country. Nearly 9,100 fugitives were arrested.

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