U.S. Attorney’s Office Announces Settlement of Claims Against Private Prisoner Transport Company for Violation of Jeanna’s Act
BISMARCK- U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon announced the settlement of the United States’ civil claims against private prisoner transport company Extradition Transport of America, L.L.C. (ETA). The United States had sued ETA alleging violations of the Interstate Transportation of Dangerous Criminals Act of 2000 (also known as “Jeanna’s Act”) relating to the October 2011 escape of Joseph M. Megna from ETA’s custody at the Oriska Rest Area along Interstate 94 in North Dakota. This suit was the first ever filed under Jeanna’s Act and sought restitution and civil penalties based on the escape of a prisoner froma private prisoner transport company.
Under the terms of the settlement, ETA has agreed to reimburse state, federal, and local law enforcement authorities approximately $70,000 for expenses relating to the re-capture of Megna. In addition, ETA will pay a $10,000 civil monetary penalty, the maximum penalty allowed for a violation of Jeanna’s Act, to the United States. A Consent to Entry of Judgment signed by ETA owner Billy G. Taylor, and
summarizing the terms of the settlement was filed today in United States of America v. Extradition Transport of America, L.L.C., United States District Court, District of North Dakota, Case No. 3:12-CV-0046.
In Bismarck, U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon said, “This groundbreaking lawsuit should send a clear message to the prisoner transport industry: follow the rules and keep the dangerous prisoners in your custody secure or face severe financial penalties under Jeanna’s Act.” U.S. Attorney Purdon added, “I also want to recognize the efforts of our Civil Division in producing this outstanding result. The dedicated men and women of our Civil Division don’t always get the recognition of our criminal prosecutors, but they too work hard and produce great results for the citizens of North Dakota and the United States.”
On October 4, 2011, ETA’s employees were transporting Megna and six other prisoners through North Dakota in a van. ETA was to transport Megna from Florida to Washington to face a felony charge of child molestation in the first degree. At the time of the escape, Megna was a registered sex offender with prior criminal convictions in Washington. Of those seven prisoners, six, including Megna, were considered “violent prisoners.” ETA’s van stopped at the Oriska Rest Area in Barnes County to allow the prisoners to use the restroom. Megna later told authorities that he used a bobby pin found on the floor of the ETA van to pick the locks on his handcuffs, waist chain and leg irons. In addition to failing to detect that Megna was not properly restrained, the ETA employees left Megna and one other prisoner unattended, with the transport van door unlocked. Megna seized the opportunity to escape from the van and flee into a cornfield north of the interstate.
Approximately 60 law enforcement personnel from 14 state, federal, and local agencies were mobilized and spent 22 hours containing the area and searching for Megna, using aircraft and other specialized equipment. Megna was captured the next day, but only after the Barnes County Sheriff formed a posse of local farmers to harvest the corn in which Megna was hiding, flushing him out. During this “harvest,” armed law enforcement officers were stationed on the farmers’ combines to protect the farmers operating the machinery.
Barnes County Sheriff Randy McClaflin said, “I would like to extend a well-deserved ‘Thank You’ to all law enforcement agencies that participated in capturing Megna. This successful effort shows the great cooperation and dedication of North Dakota law enforcement officers.” Sheriff McClaflin also expressed his appreciation for the help the officers received from the surrounding communities, particularly the local farmers who teamed up to harvest the cornfield in which Megna was hiding. “These folks were instrumental in apprehending Megna without any further delays,” Sheriff McClaflin said.
Law enforcement agencies participating in the operation included Barnes County Sheriff’s Office, Cass County Sheriff’s Office, Jamestown Police Department, Valley City Police Department, West Fargo Police Department, Fargo Police Department, Moorhead Police Department, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, North Dakota Highway Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and U.S. Marshals Service. Cass County Sheriff Paul D. Laney said, “It’s incidents like this that demonstrate the quality of the relationship between the community itself and their local, state and federal law enforcement officers. We all came together to solve an immediate issue, which was the apprehension of the suspect, and then in the aftermath the prosecution of the escapee and the U.S. Attorney’s Office holding the transport company accountable for the incident. Teamwork like this makes me proud to be a law enforcement officer in North Dakota.”
Jeanna’s Act was enacted in response to the escape of convicted murderer Kyle Bell while being transported between correctional facilities by a private prisoner transport company. Bell had sexually assaulted and murdered 11-year-old Jeanna North in Fargo, N.D., in 1993; he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. In October 1999 Bell escaped while being transferred by a private prisoner transport company. Bell was re-apprehended in Texas three months later.