By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer
Almost every day, Muskogee County Deputy Glen Reed gets behind the wheel of a sheriff’s office van and hits the road. Reed is the deputy in charge of prisoner transport for the Muskogee County/City Detention Center. By his estimation, he puts almost 8,000 miles a month on his vehicle.
“We have to buy him a new vehicle like every 18 months,” said Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson. “You can’t risk having a car break down while you’re transporting a prisoner.”
Pearson said in the last few years, prisoner transports and extraditions have risen by “at least 20 percent.”
“It’s the economy,” Pearson said. “People can’t afford to pay their child support or their fines, and instead of finding a way to do it, they leave.”
Reed traveled to Arkansas on Wednesday, Cherokee County on Thursday, back to Arkansas on Friday and will have to find time to make it to Missouri soon for another pickup. He said he averages between 20 to 30 transports a month.
In some cases, moving to a different state or county can keep you out of the local jail. Pearson said when warrants are issued, they’re tagged with a note of whether the office will or won’t extradite the subject.
Pearson said the department has a $25,000 travel budget, of which a piece is dedicated to prisoner extradition and transport.
With trips to states as far away as Washington, prisoner extradition can get costly. Long distance traveling can often require overnight stays which can tax a limited budget.
“Gas, motels, food,” Moore said. “If we’re talking about Oregon or New York, those costs can add up quick.”
Carrie Thornton, Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office Warrants and Extraditions manager, said the sheriff’s office travels out of state about 40 times each year.
And those costs can dictate who will and will not be brought back to face charges in Muskogee County.
“We will do everything we can to bring people here to face prosecution,” Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore said. “But there are financial limits sometimes to what we can do.”
Pearson said Moore’s office has the final say as to who is extradited, which Moore said can be a difficult question.
“We have to look at it objectively,” Moore said. “If the only victim is the state of Oklahoma, and it’s a case like a possession of methamphetamines ... how much will it cost us to bring them here? We’d rather use our resources to protect and serve people who are victims.
“On a normal basis, we don’t have the money to go get someone from really far away if the state of Oklahoma is the only victim.”
But, Moore said, for a serious crime, they’ll do what is necessary.
“Murder, rape, molestation ... if someone is really hurt, a severe deal, we’ll go as far as we have to,” Moore said.
Authorities in Cherokee, McIntosh and Wagoner counties echoed those sentiments.
That dividing line leads to some tough decisions. Moore said he spoke to a woman who had received a bogus $60 check. The suspect was in Montana.
“It was a good case,” Moore said. “And it happened here in Muskogee. But when you do the math, it was easy to see that we can’t go to Montana and bring someone back for a $60 check.
“We hate it, because the lady was correct ... the guy did it and he was wrong, but we have to try to do what’s best for the public as a whole.”
Cherokee County authorities recently traveled to Florida to pick up a man suspected of molesting a young girl.
That man, Roxie Lee Wagers, signed his waiver of extradition, allowing authorities to pick him up without any problem. But for some out-of-state arrests, extradition can be a more troublesome proposition.
“If they won’t sign the waiver, we have to get a governor’s warrant, which can take 30 days or more,” Pearson said. “And that entire time, the inmate is sitting in another prison, and sometimes we have to pay for that.”
Moore said if an inmate refuses extradition, the state has 90 days to get the paperwork filed to bring them back.
“Otherwise, the jail they’re in has to release them,” Moore said. “It can happen. It has happened.”
To obtain a governor’s warrant, paperwork from the DA’s office must be sent to the governor’s office. She signs the paperwork and mails it to the state holding the offender.
“We’re dealing with hard copies, which are sent through the mail,” Moore said. “There are times that can take a while.
“The bottom line is, there’s a budget we have to work under when it comes to bringing people here to face justice. And, unfortunately, we have to make some tough calls. Economically we can’t bring everyone back.”
Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or firstname.lastname@example.org.