Thank you all for coming this morning. I would like to begin today by reiterating the President and the Attorney General’s comments yesterday condemning the horrific attacks in Brussels. Our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences continue to be with the victims and their loved ones. As the Attorney General noted yesterday, we have been in contact with our counterparts in Belgium and we have offered any and all assistance that we can bring to bear, but we do not have any further additional operational updates today. Again, we stand with the people of Belgium and the people of the European Union during this difficult time.
But thankfully we are here with good news this morning. I am pleased to be joined by U.S. Marshals Service Deputy Director David Harlow, Commander Frank Chiumento and Deputy Commander Ed McMahon, as well as Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis in announcing the results of a six-week, nationwide violent fugitive sweep.
This major initiative – known as “Operation Violence Reduction 12” (VR-12) – was conducted by the Marshals Service together with our state, local and tribal law enforcement partners. It was designed to help our local communities across this country combat violent crime by getting the most dangerous criminals and repeat offenders off the streets. And that’s exactly what they did. Through Operation VR-12, over 8,000 violent fugitives who preyed on our communities were tracked down and arrested.
This was not a dragnet- type operation designed to arrest anyone with an outstanding warrant. It was focused and targeted. That’s because we know that the majority of violence in our communities can usually be traced to a relatively small number of bad actors. I saw this first hand during my 27 years as a line prosecutor, then as U.S. Attorney. If you can identify the core group of violent offenders – and focus on getting them off the street – you can clean up entire neighborhoods.
That is what the Marshals and their state and local partners have done here with Operation VR-12. First, they started by focusing on cities with above-average violent crime rates. By looking at cities identified by the department’s Violence Reduction Network and Violent Crime Working Group and using input from a number of U.S. Attorneys across the country, the Marshals narrowed the Operation to 12 cities: Baltimore; Brooklyn, New York; Camden, New Jersey; Chicago; Compton, California; Fresno, California; Gary, Indiana; Milwaukee; New Orleans; Oakland, California; Savannah, Georgia; and Washington, D.C.
The Marshals then took the open state and local arrest warrants in those cities – that is, fugitives who have outstanding charges but have not been found and arrested – and went through each of them. Rather than simply start at the top of the pile of warrants, or go after the easiest ones, the Marshals developed uniform criteria for which fugitives they would target for this operation: fugitives wanted for murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, aggravated assault, arson, kidnaping, sexual assault and child molestation. Of these, they prioritized fugitives with multiple prior arrests and previous convictions for violent crimes. And violent gang members and sexual predators received the highest priority. This was a lot of work and not an easy task. But by planning this carefully, they were able to target that handful of bad guys who cause the most violence in our communities and who were out on our streets despite having open warrants for their arrest.
With warrants in hand – and after extensive extra training for the dangerous situations they were likely to encounter – the Marshals and our state and local partners went to work getting the worst of the worst off of our streets. From Feb. 1 to March 11, for six weeks, they tracked down and arrested 8,075 violent fugitives from justice. These more than 8,000 fugitives included 559 fugitives wanted for homicide, 648 gang members and 946 sex offenders. Those numbers bear repeating – 559 wanted for homicide, 648 gang members and nearly 1,000 sex offenders. Each of the fugitives taken off the streets had an average criminal record of 7 prior arrests and three prior violent crime convictions.
To give you a sense of the impact of this operation, let me give you a couple of examples of violent fugitives no longer victimizing our communities:
- David Lee Skelly was wanted in Toledo, Ohio, on charges of repeatedly raping a young child. Profiled several times on “America’s Most Wanted,” Skelly had been a fugitive from justice for over 15 years. He had previously been arrested for rape, assault and robbery. On Feb. 26, 2016, Skelly (living under an alias) was arrested in Colorado by members of the USMS Colorado Violent Offenders Task Force.
- Michael Sykes was wanted in New York City for brutally stabbing to death his girlfriend, his own five-month-old daughter and his girlfriend’s one-year-old daughter. He also attacked his girlfriend’s two-year-old daughter, but thankfully she survived. Fittingly, her name is Miracle. Sykes previously had been arrested on assault and weapons charges. On Feb. 13, 2016, Sykes was arrested in Queens, New York, by members of the Marshals New York/ New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force.
In addition to arresting violent fugitives, the Marshals and our state and local partners safely recovered 17 children – ranging in age from 11 months to 15 years old – who had been abducted from their parents and guardians. Here are just a couple examples of these harrowing situations:
- Juan Perez-Cueva was wanted by the government of Mexico for the November 2008 murder of his wife and the abduction of his two young daughters. After he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison, Perez-Cueva kidnapped his two young daughters from his in-laws and fled Mexico for the United States. He was located and arrested on Feb. 9, 2016, in Glendora, California, by members of the Marshals Pacific Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force. The girls were safely returned to their grandparents.
- Christina Fitzpatrick was wanted in East Orange, New Jersey, on kidnaping charges in connection with the abduction of an 11-month-old boy she was babysitting. The day after the abduction, Fitzpatrick was arrested in Hempstead, New York, where members of the Marshals New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force found her with the baby and with a supply of heroin and crack. The baby was safely returned to his mother.
Operation VR-12 is an important example of what can be accomplished when our federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners work together to tackle violent crime. It also highlights the critical mission performed every day all across this country by Deputy U.S. Marshals and our state, local and tribal law enforcement partners.
But, as you would expect, going after the worst of the worst is dangerous business. Just last March, Deputy U.S. Marshal Josie Wells was killed in the line of duty while executing an arrest warrant on a fugitive wanted for a double-homicide in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So we honor him and his service by continuing to protect his family, friends, neighbors and the community and country he so honorably served.
I am gratified and relieved to report that during Operation VR-12, no Deputy U.S. Marshal or local partner was killed or seriously wounded. They did, however, encounter some incredibly challenging and dangerous situations. Fugitives initiated gun battles, forced barricaded standoffs, assaulted officers and did everything they could to evade arrest. But because of the smart, targeted and well planned efforts of the brave men and women of the Marshals Service and our law enforcement partners, communities all over the country are safer today.
I will now turn things over to Deputy Director Harlow and Commissioner Davis, to tell you a bit more about this operation.