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Fugitive apprehension teams

By Katie Deska
News staff
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"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."

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