SPOKANE, Wash. -- A nine-month investigation by KREM 2’s partners at USA Today revealed tens of thousands of wanted felons are escaping justice just by crossing state lines. KREM 2 News teamed up with USA Today to look at the numbers locally and across the country, regarding agencies, which fail to collect their suspects from out of state.
Back in 2009, Maurice Clemmons gunned down four Lakewood Police officers. In the months before the vicious attack, Arkansas refused to help keep Clemmons locked up by extraditing him back to their state for a parole violation.
INTERACT: See if your local police chase fugitives
In a case similar to Clemmons’, Lamont Pride was wanted in North Carolina when he killed a police officer in New York.
“To charge someone, especially with a serious offense, and then later say we're not going to bring that person back and prosecute them, I am dumfounded,” said Scott Burns, Executive Director of the National District Attorneys Association. “It is unconscionable."
Burns said several jurisdictions across the nation essentially ignore prosecuting their far-flung fugitives.
Thomas Terlecky was wanted for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Philadelphia. Arrested repeatedly in the Miami area, Pennsylvania authorities never came to get him.
"I ran because I didn't want to sit in jail," said Terlecky. "It really shocked me and I was surprised they let me walk out of there with a warrant for my arrest."
Records reviewed by KREM 2 News and USA Today show nationwide, police have decided they would not extradite or pick up close to 187,000 wanted felons.
"The system has to be fixed,” said Burns, “and we need to sit down with prosecutors, with law enforcement, with funders, legislators and address this problem because there is no explanation."
KREM 2 News looked closer at the local numbers and found the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and Spokane Police Department indicated they will track down felony fugitives found across state lines. In contrast, Stevens and Kootenai counties only planned to extradite 78 percent and 57 percent of their fugitives in other states, respectively. Kootenai County, however, gives priority to violent crime and sex crime warrants.
KREM 2 News also found, however, the majority of fugitives not brought back are not wanted for the most serious crimes.
According to a statement from Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen, 77 percent of the active warrants maintained by the Stevens County Superior Court are for people who have been prosecuted, served jail time, and for whom "the only outstanding issue is the payment of their legal financial obligations."
When KREM 2 News compiled the data, there were two violent crime warrants and six sex crime warrants where Stevens County checked a box indicating they would not extradite the suspect from all 50 states.
Rasmussen, however, insisted the county does pursue people wanted for the most serious crimes.
“We routinely receive calls from law enforcement agencies outside the reach of the warrant who let us know they have the person wanted in their custody. When that happens, we then seek an expansion of the warrant," Rasmussen wrote.
He also said in the past month, they issued a nation-wide extradition warrant for a fugitive charged with vehicular assault and another charged with rape and child molestation.
Whatcom County, on the other side of the state, has about the highest percentage of limited extradition warrants in Washington or Idaho at 98 percent.
The county’s prosecutor said the cost of extradition is one thing keeping them from going after their fugitives found out-of-state.
“If we don't have a case, there's no reason bringing them back," said Whatcom Co. Prosecutor David McEachran “It's an incredibly expensive process. For me to bring someone from another state, it's at least a couple thousand dollars."
When jurisdictions refuse to bring back a fugitive, however, it can become someone else’s life-changing problem.
"I feel like the system has let me down," said Lareasha Jones.
Jones believes if the system was working in her case, the man who killed her father may never have been set free.
"I don't think anybody should have to deal with this type of pain, this type of hurt, this feeling at all," said Jones.