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Fugitive hunters 'don't take anything for granted'

Every day across the country, city cops and county deputies team up on regional U.S. Marshals Service task forces to track down fugitives. Last year, their efforts led to nearly 82,000 arrests nationwide.

The target: violent criminals — some on the run from another town, others hiding within their own.

With each capture comes a warrant — and a risk to those who serve it.

Officers wear bulletproof vests and carry shields. They study their target's behavior.

"We treat everyone as if they're armed," said Deputy U.S. Marshal Ron Lindback. "We don't take anything for granted."

But nobody can look inside the mind of a wanted person.

In 2009, a murder suspect on the run pulled a gun on task force members outside a Holiday Inn in Tampa. A marshal shot Thomas McCoy twice before he did any damage, and the suspect survived to be convicted.

Often, dangers are met with such success. But in Florida this week, two tragedies show the worst that can happen.

Four days before a man in an attic killed two St. Petersburg officers and wounded a U.S. marshal, another in Miami waited with a pistol after a knock at the door.

Fugitive hunters with the Miami-Dade Police Department had visited several homes in crime-prone Liberty City searching for murder suspect Johnny Simms. His mother let officers in. But an armed Simms popped out of a room.

The suspect was shot but not before he fatally wounded Officers Roger Castillo and Amanda Haworth.

"He came out shooting because he wanted to get away," Miami-Dade police Director James Loftus told the Miami Herald. "Just because someone has a shield, or somebody has a helmet, doesn't make them suddenly protected."

On Monday, St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon spoke under all-too-similar circumstances: A warrant. Shots fired. Two officers dead. Questions of what could have been done differently.

Those answers may never come, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said.

"If somebody has that mind-set that they're going to do that, it's hard to prevent," he said. "Some things are out of your control."

Information from the Miami Herald was used in this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Fugitive hunters 'don't take anything for granted' 01/24/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 24, 2011 11:04pm]
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