Members of the US Marshals Fugitive Task Force the moment they attempt to breach a house to serve an arrest warrant in the Memphis area on June 7, 2022. US Marshals Service photo.
It’s a nationwide manhunt that has netted 230 homicide suspects, 131 suspected rapists, and 1,140 other fugitives, plus 166 illegal firearms, $53,600 in cash, and 33 kilograms of narcotics.
It’s now in its final phase, with most efforts having wrapped up by July 6, but architects of this year’s Operation North Star declared the annual manhunt for wanted violent criminals a great success. They’ve closed out 1,640 open warrants for violent crimes, targeting fugitives hailing from 10 large cities: Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.
“We have people with multiple charges, multiple warrants, and are wanted in multiple locations,” Chief Inspector Mike Sanford, the commander of the Regional Task Forces Branch of the US Marshals Service, told Coffee or Die Magazine. “These 1,501 total fugitives were arrested across a total of 25 states in the United States. Their cases originated in the 10 cities and we located them all over the place.”
Most of these cases were solved in a 30-day span in June, with US Marshals Service agents working alongside local, state, and other federal officers to ferret out criminals.
A US Marshals Service deputy examines a pistol he and his team just pulled out of the front pocket of a fugitive in the Indianapolis area on May 27. US Marshals Service photo.
“Trust me, they would all go back if we told them tomorrow, ‘Do another 30.’ They would immediately pick it up and they would not skip a beat,” Sanford said. “That’s just the dedication that all these guys and girls have. It amazes me every day. Now that I’m in the position that I’m in from coming out of the field to our headquarters, it’s truly amazing to see all of the work that’s being done on a daily basis. It’s just mind blowing.”
This year’s haul included:
Tarrion C. Johnson, 19, is charged with one count of using a dangerous and deadly weapon to assault a federal agent and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. Chicago Police Department photo.
But the operation also came at a cost. Tarrion Johnson, 19, has been charged with the June 2 shooting of a US Marshals chief inspector and his K9 working dog in Chicago.
Sanford said the chief inspector’s ballistic vest saved his life.
Authorities don’t know whether his dog, Rin, will return to the job or be medically retired.
“That dog still has bullet fragments in him,” Sanford said. “You would never know it. That dog is absolutely one in a million. He is amazing.”
Members of the US Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force just before they breach a door to gain access to a house in order to serve an arrest warrant on June 9, 2022. US Marshals Service photo.
Planning for Operation North Star began in January, including selecting 10 of America’s most violent cities to focus the dragnets on.
Then the local task forces led by US Marshals reached out to local and state law enforcement agencies to sift through the lists of wanted criminals using key “adoption” criteria that focused on murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, narcotics trafficking, sex crimes, and aggravated assault.
“We wanted to make sure that they weren’t having specific operations and that we were going to be able to have the proper manpower in place in order to make this happen,” Sanford said.
A training phase followed. US Marshals Tactical Training Officers offered instruction in legal affairs, officer safety, firearms, tactics, and medical care to task force officers.
A Harris County Constable that is deputized as a member of the US Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force covering his lane of fire during an arrest warrant being served in the Houston area on June 23, 2022. US Marshals Service photo.
This year’s operation came with a twist because Ronald Davis, the director of the US Marshals, wanted to add community engagement to what’s usually a clandestine crackdown on crime.
“It’s definitely something that we don’t usually do when we run an enforcement op,” Sanford said. “We really focus on the enforcement action of it, right?”
To help build trust with the communities they police, Sanford’s federal agents held 26 events in the 10 cities, showcasing the breaching tools they use to enter homes and the tactical gear task force officers wear to stay safe.
They also kicked off discussions with neighbors about why the task forces hunt fugitives.
The agency also wants to become more transparent to US citizens, so they’ll “know that person is not getting arrested for stealing change out of the church plate,” Sanford said.
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.
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