Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Jennifer Bueler is wanted in Las Vegas on two counts of battery -- against her mother. / Arizona Department of Corrections

LAS VEGAS - Their arrest warrants pile up by the thousands: One for a man accused of punching his girlfriend in the face. Another for a man who crashed, drunk, into a liquor store. Another for a man charged with killing a teen in a joy ride that went wrong.

But the authorities are not searching for any of those fugitives, and even if they happen to find them, they will not pursue them beyond the county line.

Across the United States, a USA TODAY investigation has found, police routinely allow as many as half of the people wanted for crimes large and small to escape justice simply by venturing a few miles from where they are wanted. In the Las Vegas area alone, police records list more than 408,000 arrest warrants for fugitives who won't be pursued beyond the edges of Clark County.

And although most of the fugitives face minor charges, law enforcement records in Nevada and other states list thousands of fugitives wanted for domestic violence, sexual abuse, manslaughter and repeat drunken driving who can evade arrest simply by traveling a county or two away. In New York, records list six rape suspects police won't pursue beyond a neighboring county.

Police say they have little choice but to let them go. "It really does come down to cost," says Jack Manning, the head of a small police force responsible for tracking down people wanted by Las Vegas' municipal court. He said he could not recall the last time his officers traveled outside Clark County to retrieve a suspect.

USA TODAY found earlier this year that law enforcement agencies across the country would let more than 186,000 felony suspects escape justice if they turned up in a different state, including thousands of fugitives wanted for robbery, sexual assault and even murder. Police and prosecutors said they lacked the time and money to navigate the occasionally cumbersome process, known as extradition, for retrieving fugitives from another state.

Records suggest that well over a million fugitives need not travel even that far to get away.

In three states alone, confidential law enforcement databases list nearly a million fugitives who need not fear being arrested if they're found beyond the next county, let alone in the next state.

Irma Delgadillo's reaction was common when she found out exactly how far the police were willing to go to pursue the man charged with killing her son: "Wow."

Her son, Giovanni Saavedra, was 17 on the night in November 2007 when he jokingly jumped onto the covered bed of his friend's pickup. The two had been laughing about what would happen if his friend started driving with Giovanni still atop the slick, plastic cover.

A moment later, Giovanni's friend did just that, according to police reports. He backed out of the driveway of the teen's North Las Vegas home and headed around the block. He turned one corner, then another, headed back toward Giovanni's house. Another man riding in the truck's cab said the second turn was "too sharp" and that the driver "lost control of the truck."

The sharp turn flung Giovanni from the truck's bed; he landed on the pavement beside a gravel-strewn city park, cracking his skull in four places. When paramedics reached him, he was lying on his back, bleeding from his mouth.

Giovanni was already connected to a ventilator by the time the police summoned his mother from the casino where she worked as a waitress. She heard what happened secondhand, from police officers and witnesses. Neighbors, she recalled, "said my son was screaming his lungs out and saying, 'Stop, stop.' "

Three days later, Giovanni showed no signs of progress. A doctor told Delgadillo that there was no hope of recovery, that "his brain would just start dissolving." That afternoon, gathered with Giovanni's brother and two sisters in his hospital room, she authorized doctors to disconnect the ventilator. He died that afternoon.

Police charged Giovanni's friend, Edgardo Martinez-Tapia, with manslaughter. They had sought to charge him with a felony, but prosecutors instead said he could be charged only with violating a Nevada law that makes it a misdemeanor to kill someone while disobeying traffic laws. A North Las Vegas judge issued a warrant for Martinez-Tapia's arrest, and officials logged it into a statewide database of fugitives.

Those databases are among the main ways police catch fugitives. Every time police stop someone for speeding or book them into jail, they can find out within seconds whether the person is already wanted, and for what. The databases also indicate how far the agency is willing to travel to pick up the person.

For Martinez-Tapia, officials said they would go only as far as the county line. That means if he is stopped by the police anyplace else, authorities would not go get him.

USA TODAY was unable to locate Martinez-Tapia. North Las Vegas officials did not respond to questions about why they would not go farther to pursue him.

Delgadillo, Giovanni's anguished mother, wonders: "Why didn't they put him away?"


Those unwanted fugitives underscore an often overlooked reality for U.S. law enforcement: For all the advances police and prosecutors have made in their ability to solve crimes, they still struggle with the basic step of making sure that the people they arrest show up to answer the charges.

Exactly how often police decide not to pursue suspects even within their states is impossible to know. Some states don't systematically track the limits their officers put on warrants. In others, officials said warrant records are secret.

Still, police records and databases from across the United States make clear that it happens routinely:

? In Michigan: Half of the roughly 1 million people with outstanding arrest warrants would be picked up only if police found them within 25 miles of the city where they're wanted, according to the Michigan State Police. Among them are approximately 1,000 people charged with felonies.

? In New York: Nearly half of the state's fugitives would be arrested only if police found them in New York City or its immediate suburbs. Among them are at least 361 people charged with sexual abuse and more than 11,000 people charged with assault.

? In Nevada: Among the 408,000 arrest warrants Las Vegas area police and court officials have decided to serve only within the county are nearly 6,500 for people charged with either assault or battery. Nearly 300 others are for people charged with drunken driving for at least the second time.

"I don't think that's a good idea, but it all probably comes down to dollars," says Kathleen Bienenstein, the program coordinator for Mothers Against Drunk Driving's Nevada chapter. "When you have repeat offenders and people who think it's a joke, that's a problem."

Even some police officials said they were surprised Las Vegas-area authorities wouldn't pursue some fugitives at least as far as the state border - particularly those charged with drunken driving or manslaughter. "We're hopefully more responsible than that," said Tori Shumway, who manages a Nevada Highway Patrol warrant unit.

Brandon McManaway is wanted on charges that he grabbed his girlfriend by the neck during a Christmas Eve argument in 2009, then punched her in the face four times with a closed fist.

Reached at a community correction center outside Columbus, Ohio, where he is serving a sentence for an unrelated drug charge, McManaway denied hitting her. He said he did not know that he was wanted in Las Vegas and asked what the charge was.

"I'm not worried about that," he said when he heard. "They won't come get me for that."

In Las Vegas, as in many cities, police can barely afford to keep up with fugitives who don't run.

The police force responsible for tracking down people wanted in Las Vegas' city court, for example, has just 20 officers to serve more than 117,000 outstanding warrants - when they're not busy providing security inside the courtrooms.

Instead, police count on suspects to eventually get tired of the routine inconveniences of being wanted and to turn themselves in. Nevada, for example, won't issue a driver's license to someone with an outstanding warrant. And pending criminal charges, even minor ones, can derail job applications if they turn up during background checks.

"One way or another, most people are going to be held accountable. It's just a matter of time," Manning said.

Other states take a different approach. In Massachusetts and North Carolina, for example, arrest warrants generally are good anywhere in the state, and officers who find a fugitive can simply take him to a local judge instead of having to find someone to ferry him to the other side of the state.

"If I knew as a criminal that someone will only go 25 miles to get me, what would prevent me from driving 26 miles to the next jurisdiction?" said Hickory, N.C., Police Chief Tom Adkins. "Our citizens would expect that if we start a criminal process, that (the warrant) is served."

But authorities say it's common that police do not have the time or money to pursue people wanted for minor offenses.

"I would think that in every town, city and hamlet across the country there are thousands of in-county warrants for minor offenses," said Scott Burns, until recently the head of the National District Attorneys Association. "That probably has broad support among the taxpayers; why should we expend the time and money to go find these people?"

He said authorities should use their limited resources to focus on people who might pose a danger to others.

But in Las Vegas and elsewhere, law enforcement won't pursue even some people charged with violent offenses. Jennifer Bueler, for example, faces two separate battery charges.

One afternoon in 2011, police charged, Bueler shoved her mother into a wall as they tussled over $32. Another night, police said, she pushed her mother down a flight of stairs as they fought over $80. Bueler's mother told a police officer she feared her daughter would try to kill her. "I looked up at her eyes, and they were just total blackness," Bueler's mother, Sharon Bueler, said later.

Jennifer Bueler is in prison in Arizona on an unrelated charge. Sharon Bueler says she doesn't want to see her daughter freed there only to be dragged back to Nevada to face battery charges.

Her daughter's lawyer, Julian Gregory, says there's little chance of that. The two warrants for Bueler, like nearly all of those issued by the city's municipal court, are for pickup in Clark County only.

"Defendants have this perception that I can bounce and nobody's ever going to come find me," he said.

Contributing: Mark Hannan

Follow investigative reporter Brad Heath on Twitter at @bradheath



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: For a million fugitives, freedom starts at county line

More In

test

Real Deals

Flip, shop and save on specials from your favorite retailers in central Ohio.

GET DEALS | COUPONS

Things To Do

THU
30
FRI
31
SAT
1
SUN
2
MON
3
TUE
4
WED
5

CLASSIFIEDS

Classifieds from across Central Ohio
Lancaster
Chillicothe
Newark
Marion
Bucyrus
Mansfield
Zanesville
Coshocton

Weeklies & Shoppers

10TV Headlines

Dispatch Headlines

METROMIX