Deputies keep watch for county's most-wanted
When a La Grange man was suspected of slashing the throat of a Whitewater pastor and fleeing on foot, it was only by a coincidence that he was caught a day later.
A probation and parole agent was checking on one of his clients and noticed the fugitive, 22-year-old Martin J. Nelson, hanging out at the home.
The probation agent had heard about the arrest warrant for Nelson and had seen his photo in local newspapers. He called authorities, and Nelson was taken into custody at once.
Some could say finding and arresting Nelson was luck.
But on a daily basis, the Walworth County Sheriff's Office counts on more than luck to catch fugitives.
"Generally, people with warrants fall under a couple categories," Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said. "One category will generally be people who will ignore them, who are not attentive to their responsibilities. The other category is people who will actively try to not be caught and evade arrest.
"That becomes the challenge for our deputies."
Capt. Scott McClory heads the office's fugitive task force, which deals with following cases of fugitives throughout the county and wherever else the search leads them. The unit comprises three deputies, one for each of the shifts at the sheriff's office.
"The fugitive task force triages the amount of warrants that they get," McClory said.
It's like a physician with six patients in line for surgery, McClory said. All are important and eventually will be taken care of. But it's crucial to understand which patients need immediate attention and which can wait longer.
"And the biggest thing that most people would be surprised about is that these fugitive task force deputies are only able to do that when they're not on call," McClory said.
The deputies' main responsibility is still to be out on the streets following current, active cases. Still, they are able to get to a tremendous number of cases and follow up on hundreds of leads over the course of a year, McClory said.
Last year, the fugitive task force executed 503 misdemeanor warrant attempts and 102 felony warrant attempts. They made 238 misdemeanor arrests and 36 felony arrests.
One search took deputies to Costa Rica in 2006, when a Fontana Village Board trustee sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexual assault of a child fled.
Walworth County officials worked with U.S. deputy marshals, Interpol, the FBI and the Department of Justice to track down James Colwell.
It took them about a year to locate the fugitive and a year to extradite him from Costa Rica, McClory said.
"We had to file and re-file the warrant with different agencies; it was a lot of work," McClory said.
With few officers and plenty to do, McClory said the secret to running the unit is being able to manage time and resources to leave "no stone unturned."
"If you can come up with a way to track somebody down, my guys know how to track that person," McClory said.