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U.S. Marshals apprehend fugitives

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Southwest Virginia is a little safer after local, state and federal law enforcement officers joined forces for a month-long fugitive apprehension effort in June.

The fugitive task force Operation FALCON — the acronym for Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally — soared into the region's 52 localities on June 1 and, by the end of the month, 742 fugitives had been apprehended and 1,175 outstanding warrants cleared.

Operation FALCON 2009, the sixth in the series of U.S. Marshals Service-led fugitive apprehension initiatives, partnered Deputy U.S. Marshals with local police, sheriffs, state officers and other federal agencies, each dedicating man power and resources to the goal of removing as many violent offenders from the streets as possible while clearing backlogged warrants from law enforcement’s files.

Officers from the Galax Police Department, Carroll and Grayson sheriffs' departments and Virginia State Police were involved in the operation, along with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Secret Service and Virginia Department of Probation.

“The cooperation and enthusiasm of law enforcement agencies in the Western District of Virginia has always been incredible,” said U.S. Marshal Wayne Pike. “We are facing new challenges in law enforcement and must always adapt to overcome sometimes overwhelming odds when faced with the criminal element that places our communities in danger.”

This partnership has been bad news for criminals for the past five years. Since its inception in 2005, Operation FALCON has made 91,086 arrests and cleared 117,874 warrants. It continues to be the largest and most successful fugitive apprehension effort in U.S. Marshals history.

Nationwide, Operation FALCON 2009 apprehended more than 35,000 fugitives.

“When law enforcement agencies combine their resources, the greater good of society always comes out on top,” added Marshal Pike.

Arrests in the Western District of Virginia — which includes Galax, Carroll and Grayson — targeted fugitives wanted for crimes of violence, sex offenses, gang-related crimes and narcotics violations. Participating agencies identified wanted persons within their communities, who were then targeted by assigned arrest teams within each geographical area.

Items seized included four firearms, $2,706 in U.S. currency, three vehicles and nearly 100 kg of illegal drugs.

“Each time we wrap up a FALCON operation in any location, there are less dangerous individuals — and fewer threats to the community — than before we arrived there,” said John F. Clark, director of the U.S. Marshals Service. “That is very gratifying.”

Local Arrests

Deputy U.S. Marshal Jim Satterwhite, who coordinated arrests in the Twin Counties, confirmed that Donald Trotter of Galax was one of the men picked up in this operation.

Trotter was wanted for possession of child pornography on his computer, according to Satterwhite and Deputy U.S. Marshal Byron Schiesz. The charge originated in Smyth County.

Police didn't find him in Galax, but they found out that Trotter was at his mother's place in Rocky Mount and they asked authorities from Roanoke to arrest him there.

The marshals believe that a phone call to Trotter's mother's house, resulting from the search in Galax, tipped him off, because even as the Roanoke authorities were preparing to serve the warrant on Trotter, he had his mother drive him to the Rocky Mount Police Department so he could turn himself in.

(Trotter has been in the news before. He was suspended from his post as a paramedic with Hillsville Rescue Squad after using one of its ambulances to move his girlfriend's furniture from Marion to an apartment in Hillsville. His suspension eventually led to the rescue squad being shut down.)

The Galax Police Department served about five warrants and cleared four others, finding that some facing charges were already incarcerated in other localities or were deceased, said Galax Police Capt. James Cox.

"We looked at the most serious charges, worked as a team, revisited these cases and stayed dedicated to tracking them down," said Cox.

Cox said because of Operation FALCON, the police department was able to develop two additional leads.

No fugitives were arrested in Galax, but in other jurisdictions.

Officers worked throughout June to find these individuals.

Galax police officers sworn in as specialists for Operation FALCON were Cox, Detective Aaron Criner, Mark Burnett, Darrin Alley, Daren Dixon, Bill Shaffner and Jacob Vaughan.

Grayson authorities helped with information on fugitive Jerry Duncan, who was tracked down in Tenn., Satterwhite said. The man has a violent criminal history and had been on the run for 2.5 years.

According to Lt. Tim Sawyer of the Grayson County Sheriff's Department, Duncan was one of three arrests made on Grayson County charges.

Duncan was arrested for probation violation, while Johnny Bond was arrested for charges of pointing/brandishing a firearm.

The third person arrested on charges stemming from Grayson was Sandra Yelton, who faces a grand larceny charge.

According to Sawyer, two others were arrested in Grayson for charges outside the county. Rudy Wyatt was arrested on charges stemming from fraud, and Fabian Kelly was a fugitive from justice in Alleghany County, N.C.

Sawyer noted that assistance provided by the U.S. Marshals helped determine that two additional individuals wanted by the Grayson County Sheriff's Office are now deceased.

Chief Deputy Mike Hash, Lt. Sawyer, Lt. David Ashby, Deputy Adam Horton and Deputy Justin Haga all participated in Operation FALCON for Grayson.

Grayson Sheriff Richard Vaughan said his department was thankful to be a part of the effort to make Southwest Virginia a little safer.

According to Sawyer, two others were arrested in Grayson for charges outside the county. Rudy Wyatt was arrested on charges stemming from fraud, and Fabian Kelly was a fugitive from justice in Alleghany County, N.C.

Sawyer noted that assistance provided by the U.S. Marshals helped determine that two additional individuals wanted by the Grayson County Sheriff's Office are now deceased.

Chief Deputy Mike Hash, Lt. Sawyer, Lt. David Ashby, Deputy Adam Horton and Deputy Justin Haga all participated in Operation FALCON for Grayson.

Grayson Sheriff Richard Vaughan said his department was thankful to be a part of the effort to make Southwest Virginia a little safer.

Other local arrests, according to Satterwhite, included Rex Smith of Carroll, narcotics; Danny Stanley of Galax, forging a public record (located in the North Carolina Department of Corrections); and Robert Walker of Carroll, probation violation.

Satterwhite said the majority of fugitives either had a violent charge or violent criminal history.

Team Effort

Satterwhite had high praise for the local police involved in the roundup. "These guys are doing it because they're living in the community. We couldn't operate if we didn't have our local guys and state guys."

Satterwhite also hoped that Operation FALCON would encourage local police departments to seek help from the U.S. Marshals Service more often. After all, they already have the authority to cross state lines to arrest fugitives.

He hoped the operation would lead to a friendship developing between local, state and federal agencies.

The authorities worked on Operation Falcon for the whole month of June, but Satterwhite expects to serve more warrants. He explained that the officers involved just ran out of time to round up everyone.

"I've still got warrants,” he said. “We're going to keep working..."

Satterwhite said both local and federal warrants were issued. Some cases — such as sexual offenses, gun charges and illegal drug cases — may well end up in federal court, and other cases will be tried locally.

• More on Operation FALCON 2009 can be found at www.usmarshals.gov/falcon09/index.html.