- L. Scott Harrell
- CompassPoint Investigations
- An excerpt from
- The Business of Finding and Taking Bond Forfeiture
Defendants into Custody"
- Locating defendants or persons with
information critical to a client’s case is a routine assignment
for investigators. We
have a myriad of resources available to us that can assist in our
proverbial “paper trail” we create as we go through life, from
a birth certificate all the way through our eventual death
certificate, many documents punctuate our voyage along the way.
Additionally, we have a multitude of sources to check when
searching for almost any American: all of the computer databases,
voter registration indices, civil and criminal court filings, the
telephone book, crisscross directories, Motor Vehicle Department
records, credit card records, Social Security data, sometimes
police reports, and the list goes on at nauseam.
- What do you do, however, when the
subject of your search is not in the mainstream of society?
When there are no telltale signs we normally find along the
paper trail? Is it
even possible? Does
it happen very often? Yes,
it can happen, and more often today than ever before.
- An expanding segment of our
population does not leave the usual clues, but a record is
nevertheless created. These
are the homeless Americans we have all read and heard about more
and more over the last few years.
There are now many thousands of these people in this
country, and if you haven’t already encountered them in your
work, the chances are quickly increasing that you will.
- These people are on the streets for
many reasons; they are “on the run”, they lost their jobs or
homes, have no appreciable job skills or the ability to find work. They may be mentally impaired, physically ill, or may be
alcohol and drug abusers, but whatever the reason, chances are you
will deal with them in a future investigation, especially as it
relates to the criminal justice system..
- Because of their vulnerability and
sometimes their own acts, street people are turning up in
increasing numbers as the victims, witnesses and perpetrators in
criminal incidents. Over
the last few years, my company has been called on to help locate a
number of these defendants. In
one case, the victim, the assailants and the witnesses (who all
knew and traveled with each other) were transients living under a
bridge a few blocks from downtown Austin, Texas.
- How do you go about locating these
people? Some street
people may not want to be located while others aren’t
intentionally avoiding discovery but will still be hard to
locate because of the lack of the usual leads,
- Do not make the gaffe of thinking
that because homeless people have no visible means of support that
they are restricted from moving long distances in a relatively
short period of time. I have found street people in Central Texas
who have come from Michigan, California, Mexico, New York, and
points beyond. They
travel to more moderate climates, to places where they have heard
it was easier to get handouts or avoid prosecution, sometimes just
on a whim; they do wander and sometimes to far off places. In the case mentioned earlier, we found that upon hearing
that we had apprehended his co-defendant, a bail fugitive had
traveled from Austin to Dallas; a distance of almost 195 miles in
only a few hours.
- To start your investigation, you
need some lead or basis to believe that your subject is in a
certain area. That
information may be developed from the subject’s old friends,
relatives, associates, ex-employers, or your client (if acquainted
with or related to the subject).
The subject may have written or called someone and given an
indication of location or destination.
- Always check the jails in adjoining
or nearby counties! Next,
check with the local police department.
In Austin we can get incident reports that list dates,
times, locations and the primary participants.
If you do turn up a record of police contact with your
subject, it is probably outdated unless the subject is in another
jail or in a hospital. However, as limited as they may be, the
records can confirm that your subject was in
the area on a certain date and time.
They may also pinpoint the area where your subject hangs
- Hospitals and morgues are the two
other institutions that commonly have contact with the transient
population and are about the only ones that come from the routine
checklist you may usually follow.
- Your next step is to develop two
lists; the first is of shelter agencies that cater to transients;
the second is a list of places that these people typically
congregate. These two
lists will probably have common characteristics, but there will be
separate, distinct locations on each.
Various places you might find on the
first list are:
- • Salvation Army locations
- • Churches and church-sponsored
locations, including "soup kitchens"
- • Privately funded charity
- • YMCAs, YWCAs, etc.
- In many places, street people have
formed coalitions or associations to help deal with their
problems. Any of
these organizations may he able to help you locate your subject or
give you other leads. On your list of locations frequented by transients you will
- • Bus or train stations
- • Plasma centers that purchase
blood from donors (and other income sources)
- • Day-worker pickup locations
where they can obtain labor jobs lot a short period
- • Common street locations where
In the vicinity of the shelter agencies like the Salvation Army
Parks, bridges, highway overpasses, etc (protection from the
- In Austin there is an area called
“The Drag”, a portion of a major street that runs along the
west side of the University of Texas campus.
There are several places here where transients gather
to exchange information about shelter locations and where to get
free handouts. They panhandle passers-by, share food or drink, and if they
can afford it, drugs. In
this particular location, they also pass out or just fall asleep
on the sidewalk.
- Once you have compiled your lists of
places to look and checked with the jails, police, and hospitals
then you are almost ready for the ground-search.
- Hopefully you have obtained some or
all of the following:
- • Subject’s full name, aliases,
- • Age and/or date of birth
- • A photograph, as recent as
possible, and physical description
- • Medical data (illnesses or
- • Mental health information
- In some eases, as a next step, you
may want to prepare a “Missing” or a “Reward” poster,
whichever is appropriate for where you intend on putting them. These are useful for leaving with businesses or individuals,
posting in shelter agencies and areas where other homeless people
may frequent; give them to people you interview along your way.
The posters may generate additional leads on your
subject’s whereabouts, particularly if there is a reward offered
for information. The
posters should include a picture of the
subject, name, description, maybe a reason why you are looking for
the subject and how to contact you if someone has information.
If a reward is offered for information it should say so on the
poster. If you use a
“Missing” poster ensure you create a believable pretext why
the defendant needs to be found.
- Aside from a little research and
possibly some telephone work, you are going to wear out some shoe
leather and be dealing directly with people when you work a case
involving these people. If
you are one of those investigators who can’t stand computers and
you like to do your investigations the old-fashioned way, you are
going to love this type of ease.
- In making your way around the various
shelter organizations, you nay run into problems getting
information from some of them.
A number of the facilities keep records of the people who
pass through them; for example, the Salvation Army shelter in
Austin keeps an index card on every individual who spends the
night. The card shows
a name, the date the subject stayed and has a short questionnaire
for the subject to fill out about any health or mental problems.
But many facilities have policies or legal restrictions
preventing them from divulging much, if any, useful information.
In those cases it is often helpful to have a copy of the
defendant’s warrant with you.
Most facility operators don’t want the trouble that often
comes on the heels of a fugitive investigation and not
- If you are going to use a pretext
method, I recommend leaving a message for the subject to pick up
(if appropriate to the case). Many facilities will take such a
message for the subject and post it for their clients to receive
if they come in to stay. Be
sure to leave a “Missing” poster and your business card with
the supervisor and the desk clerk. We have had several cases where, after we had made contact
with the facility management, we received anonymous tips that
our subject was at a specific location, most often at one or
two o’clock in the morning.
- Finally, you have to go to the
various locations visited by other homeless people, talk to the
people and check for leads or information.
Talking lo these people is not always easy.
They are often uninterested, evasive, drunk, or trying to
manipulate the investigator into giving them a handout.
So it will take all of your interviewing skills and some
patience to get information you can use.
- Remember the following steps as you
go about your investigation:
- • Obtain a description of your
subject and define a starting location for your search
- • Check jail logs and other local
- • Develop lists of shelter
agencies and locations frequented by transients.
- • Make a “Missing” or
“Wanted” poster in appropriate cases.
- • Contact shelter agencies.
- • Check the areas frequented by
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