11:08 A.M. EST
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Good morning. I'm joined today by U.S. Marshals Service Director John Clark; Prince Georges, Maryland County Sheriff Michael Jackson; Alexandria, Virginia Sheriff Dana Lawhorne; and Alexandria's Chief of Police, David Baker.
And I'm pleased to announce that as of this morning, the U.S. Marshals Service has concluded Operation FALCON III, an intensive week-long law enforcement campaign in which more than 10,700 fugitives, 1600 sex offenders, 971 of whom were unregistered, and 360 gang members, were arrested. Operation FALCON can also claim seizure of over 230 firearms.
This was the third phase of FALCON, which stands for Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally. The operation was conducted in 49 judicial districts, generally east of the Mississippi River.
Like FALCON II, which was conducted earlier this year in the western United States, there was a particular focus on sex offenders and gang members. And I'm pleased to announce that this operation has broken all U.S. Marshals records for the numbers of fugitives, sex offenders, and gang members arrested in one week.
Joined by federal, state, and local law enforcement, the Marshals Service leads Operation FALCON, targeting the worst of the worst fugitive felons in the country. The dedicated public servants deputized for this operation have worked long hours over the course of the last week, and their work has paid off.
As an example of the type of criminals the FALCON team sought to catch, I want to tell you about Alan Marksberry, who was arrested in Rickman, Tennessee last Tuesday. He was wanted in his county for violating his probation, convicted on state charges of sodomy and sexual abuse in a case involving a 7-year-old girl. Mr. Marksberry had ceased to register as a sex offender as he moved around the state of Tennessee.
At the time of his Operation FALCON arrest, investigators discovered that Marksberry had been babysitting three young children, and a further search of the home resulted in the seizure of a loaded handgun, quantities of marijuana and veterinarian narcotics, police scanners, and pornographic photographs, including a picture of Marksberry holding a partially nude young girl. Investigators also discovered a travel trailer behind the home which provided its occupant with a clear view of a local playground. Inside the trailer, investigators found a pair of binoculars. Now, Marksberry has already been convicted of some offenses, as I mentioned earlier. As to the new charges he will face, Marksberry is, as any defendant is, innocent until proven guilty. He is exactly the type of offender that Operation FALCON aims to get off the streets.
And I want to note that we are reviewing all of these cases for potential violations of the new federal crime of failure to register as a sex offender under the Adam Walsh Act.
As a law enforcement official and as a parent, news of a crime committed by someone who is already wanted for another crime is always particularly hard to hear about. I know that we all think the same thing when we hear those stories: If only the guy had been caught and stopped after his first crime, then a second victim could have been spared. That's the purpose of programs like Operation FALCON, making sure that there aren't second or third victims, especially children, their innocence or even their lives taken by a dangerous fugitive.
My top priorities as Attorney General include the safety of America's neighborhoods and our children, and these are goals that can only be achieved when all the branches of law enforcement are working together as a national network. And as we can see, Operation FALCON has shown how much we can accomplish when our network is in full force. I am confident in saying that America's neighborhoods are safer today thanks to Operation FALCON III and the devoted individuals who carried out its work.
I'd like to welcome Director John Clark to the podium to make a statement, and then we'd both be happy to take any questions you might have. Thank you.
DIRECTOR CLARK: Mr. Attorney General, thank you for supporting this operation and for your commitment to keeping our homeland safe.
I am pleased to announce the truly amazing results of Operation FALCON III. Beginning at midnight, October 22nd, an average of 3,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers hit the streets every day until the operation concluded at midnight on October 28th. They hit the streets with one clear focus: apprehend the worst offenders by any means possible wherever they could be found.
While only a small group can fit on this stage to represent those dedicated law enforcement officers, I wish all 3,000, many of whom were deputized as special Deputy U.S. Marshals, could join us here today. They represent over 1,000 different law enforcement agencies from the southernmost tip of Florida to the border in Maine, and hundreds more east of the Mississippi River.
Let me add to what the Attorney General has said and tell you a little bit more about what these dedicated officers accomplished in a one-week period. We arrested 107 people wanted for murder. Over 3,600 narcotics violators were arrested. 232 firearms were recovered. In all, we locked 10,773 fugitives, making America a bit safer.
This operation also had a special focus on apprehending sex offenders who prey on the most innocent among us, and violent gang members who are responsible for much of the criminal activity in our communities. As the Attorney General noted, arresting over 1,600 sex offenders and 360 gang members has to make a difference, and sends a strong message that we will bring them to justice.
With the passage of the Adam Walsh Act, which makes it a federal offense to fail to register as a convicted sex offender, I'm especially pleased that nearly 1,000 unregistered sex offenders were netted in this operation, and I hope this operation sends a reminder message to those who must register.
I'm here to say, however, that because Operation FALCON III has ended, it does not mean that those we didn't catch are safe from apprehension. We will continue to track down the violent criminals wherever they are. For example, a suspected offender who was targeted in the FALCON II operation was apprehended this past week as part of Operation FALCON III because we never gave up pursuing him.
To give you some perspective on the impact this operation made, let me share a story from the FALCON files. Deputy marshals and task force officers entered a house in Maine looking for an unregistered sex offender who was also on probation for gross sexual assault of a person under the age of 13. The victim in this case was an 8-year-old girl. When the FALCON arrest team entered the house, they arrested the suspect and later learned that he had pornographic images on his computer. And this case stands as an example of the potential for further harm to our communities and innocent children.
I want to conclude today by remembering the victims of violent crime, and I
want to dedicate this latest FALCON operation to them. The harm brought
to victims of violent crime extends beyond the loss of a loved one at the hands
of a murder or the pain of a rape victim. When we fail to catch those
who commit these crimes, it is the victims and their families and loved ones
who live with the knowledge that a dangerous fugitive got away and may also
harm some other innocent person. The Department of Justice wants to send
a message that victims matter, and justice isn't final until the suspect is
apprehended and faces the justice they deserve.
Thank you, and we would now be pleased to take any questions you have.
QUESTION: Director Clark, how many fugitives are there in the United States total, would you estimate? And how many people do you have tracking them under normal -- during a normal workday?
DIRECTOR CLARK: Well, it's estimated that there are about one million fugitives entered into the National Crime Information Center, and perhaps several more that are not in the NCIC system. On an annual -- or I should say on a weekly basis, we apprehend about 1,000 fugitives nationally. So that's some perspective of how many are still out there.
QUESTION: You had 3,000 people in this week-long operation. How many people do you have in fugitive task forces and so forth when there's not an operation like this?
DIRECTOR CLARK: We have several hundred nationally that would work on any given day on apprehending fugitives. And that includes not just the Marshals Service, but our other state and local and federal partners that work on our fugitive task forces.
QUESTION: Sir, can you talk about some of the incidents in Georgia and Florida? I understand there were some shooting incidents.
DIRECTOR CLARK: That's correct. In operations of this nature and because we have targeted the worst of the worst, some of the most violent offenders, there was an incident that is still under investigation, the details of which I cannot share. But there was an incident where a suspect was killed in the Atlanta metro area. Additionally, there was an individual who fired at task force officers in the northern Florida area when they were attempting to apprehend the suspect.
QUESTION: Any law enforcement officials hurt?
DIRECTOR CLARK: There were no law enforcement officials hurt, thankfully.
QUESTION: This is the third operation. And so in three of the operations, you've arrested about 30,000 people. Correct? How many of these individuals end up being prosecuted, and how many will end up serving serious jail time?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, we obviously hope that they'll all be prosecuted, and hopefully they'll all serve an appropriate length of time in jail. That is our objective, of course, is to apprehend them first and prosecute them. And that's what we intend to do at the Department of Justice.
I can't give you specific numbers, but obviously, we spend a lot of resources, not just at the federal level but at the state and local level, to round up these fugitives. And so we obviously are going to do our very best to ensure a successful prosecution.
QUESTION: Does this put a burden on the local communities and the local jails that have to now deal with a large influx of new prisoners?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Of course there's an additional burden. But we try to help alleviate that burden by providing federal resources where we can. But obviously, we are in the business of apprehending and incarcerating and prosecuting bad guys. And so that is part of the cost of doing business. And so when we have someone in jail, that means that we've done our job. And that is a good thing, not a bad thing.
QUESTION: Some people this morning were questioning the timing of this release in relation to the upcoming election. I just wonder if you could respond to that at all.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I don't know which people you're referring to. Maybe you're questioning the timing. We had no decision -- the Department of Justice played no role in the timing of this program. I'll let Director Clark talk about this. And this was a decision made by the Marshals Service for operational reasons, as I understand it.
DIRECTOR CLARK: The operational planning for FALCON III began many months ago without regard to any political elections coming up with the timing of this. I can assure you that the coordination of getting 3,000-plus officers and agencies and everybody together to do this just takes a lot of coordination.
Another simple fact just included the weather. We wanted to conduct something in the fall, which would be outside the realm of the harsh winter weather that includes the northeastern part of the country. So some of it was just for logistical purposes.
QUESTION: Mr. Gonzales, the question has come up in earlier operations as to why it's taken a big one-week push to get some of these bad guys off the streets, particularly when we're talking about, you know, a hundred-plus murder suspects, sex offenders, high profile targets. Why isn't that happening at that level on a daily and weekly basis? Is it just a matter of resources?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I think a lot of it does have to do with the resources and the commitment of priorities. Here we're talking about a sustained effort between federal and state and local officials to focus on the worst offenders. And the truth of the matter is that we don't have the level of resources available either at the federal or state or local level to have this kind of committed push all the time.
And so, you know, obviously I think we do a good job rounding up the people who have engaged in criminal activity, and I think that obviously we are grateful to our state and local officials who are willing to commit the resources to help us during these concentrated efforts to identify and to arrest offenders.
QUESTION: In the next budget, would you request additional money to do a more sustained effort?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, we always look to see -- you know, that's something that we work within the Administration and we're working with the Congress in terms of making sure that we have adequate resources to help in these kind of efforts.
You have to understand that the federal component of most state and local budgets is less than 5 percent. And that's nationwide. And so the fact that we may not be able to provide additional resources, sometimes it may or may not have an impact on the ability of state and local departments to engage in certain kinds of activities or certain kinds of programs.
We value very much our relationships with state and local officials, and they are a very partner to what we want to accomplish, and we want to continue working with them. And we'll be working within the Administration and with the Congress to see if we can get additional resources to provide in this kind of activity.
QUESTION: Mr. Gonzales, you've made sex crimes a big part in your term here. And I wonder, after seeing in each of these operations, fugitive operations, you've arrested hundreds and hundreds of sex offenders each time -- this time it's 1600 -- it seems like this is a bottomless pit in some ways. What's your sense of where the nation stands in trying to pick up these people and the level of seriousness of the sex offenses?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I think that there are a number of sex offenders that live in this country. I think we've made good progress in rounding them up. I think Congress has given us additional tools. The sex offender registry is an important tool. We have an obligation to enforce the laws under the Adam Walsh Act.
It's something that I'm concerned about, quite frankly. It is a reason why I've placed a focus on threats to our children from sex offenders and sexual predators. And I'm happy to talk about it any time, anywhere, because I think the American public need to understand it's a serious threat to our children. And what I'm doing is simply enforcing the law. And that's what I'll continue to do as Attorney General.
QUESTION: How many or what portion of these offenders who are arrested are they of the total that are still outstanding? How many additional sex offenders are still throughout the country?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Oh, I couldn't -- I don't have that number here at the podium. Maybe we can get back to you. I'm afraid that there are too many -- there are a lot of sex offenders, quite frankly, that are out there, that pose a threat to our children. And that's why it's important, particularly for parents, to be aware of this, to be educated on how to be smart, to talk to their children about the threat. And obviously, we have state and local officials who are likewise concerned about it, likewise focused on it. And so it's going to require a collaborative effort, I think, to successfully address this.
QUESTION: A large number were failure to register of the sex offenders?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Yes. A large number were failure to register.
QUESTION: In that process, is there actually a warrant out on them, or are you checking one database against the other? How do you identify those people that there's an outstanding charge?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I want to make sure I get this right.
DIRECTOR CLARK: Yes. Those who are arrested as unregistered sex offenders did have an active warrant outstanding at the local level. Now, as the Attorney General said earlier, we're reviewing a number of these cases to see if they might be or should be prosecuted under the new Adam Walsh Act, which makes it a federal offense for failure to register. So we will still review those cases. There were approximately a little bit less than, I think, a thousand of this total number of 1600 that were unregistered sex offenders.
QUESTION: How do you get a local warrant for failure to register? Who is it that sort of checks to see whether or not the guy living in the neighborhood is registered or not?
DIRECTOR CLARK: The local jurisdiction has to actually determine if the individual is registered where they should be. If they find that they are not, they can then seek a warrant to bring that person into court to charge them with the act of failing to register.
QUESTION: Judge Gonzales, while we have you under the bright lights with the television cameras rolling, I wonder if we could get you to talk a little bit about the elections. You issued a written statement yesterday, or your office did, that included a couple of quotes. It sounded like you're confident that there aren't going to be any major problems, at least from the federal point of view, in the upcoming elections. What's your thought about how it's going, how the planning is going, whether you do foresee any difficulties?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, let's begin with an understanding that state and local governments have primary responsibility for dealing with elections. They're handled at the state and local level. I'm a former secretary of state, and so I know this quite well. That's where the primary responsibility is. The federal government's role is relatively limited in terms of, you know, making sure there isn't fraud, there isn't -- people's civil rights are not being infringed upon.
Nonetheless, we care very much about the integrity of the election process. And so we are going to have a number of monitors located at polling places throughout the country. And I have a great deal of confidence in state and local officials in ensuring the integrity of elections within their jurisdiction. I understand there are some stories -- I've heard some stories or read some stories -- about concerns about perhaps electronic voting. Again, these are decisions made by local officials as to what kind of voting they want to have occur within their particular jurisdiction. They’re tested. These machines are tested, not once, not twice, oftentimes numerous times. Sometimes there are audits before elections. Sometimes there are audits after elections. And so there is a lot of work that’s being done by state and local officials to ensure the integrity of our elections. Do mistakes happen from time to time? Of course mistakes happen, but there’s been a lot of work that’s been done already to minimize the number of mistakes that occur and we will be out there, federal officials, state and local officials will be out there to ensure the integrity of this election.
Thank you very much.