More than 10 years ago, a man accused of shaking a baby, causing injuries that killed her, left Franklin before police could put him in handcuffs.
Officers spoke to family members to find out where he had gone. They checked with his friends. Police investigated tips that came in after he was featured on an episode of “America’s Most Wanted.” But Raul Ortiz Gonzalez has never been located, and police believe he might have fled to Mexico.
The prosecutor filed a single charge of battery causing death, and an arrest warrant was issued in March 2003. Gonzalez is one of more than 3,500 people police have warrants for who have not been arrested.
The number of homes police will visit, family members they will interview or hours they will spend searching Facebook will vary depending on the type of crime someone has been charged with.
The majority of people wanted on warrants — more than 3,000 — have been charged with misdemeanor crimes, such as battery or driving while intoxicated.
If a person isn’t at the address on the warrant or police don’t have a good idea where they work or are staying, the search might end. If they continue to break the law, they’ll be arrested on another charge or when they’re stopped for speeding or failing to use a turn signal.
For a more serious crime, police will seek out relatives and friends, monitor social media and enlist the help of the U.S. Marshals Service. Just because someone leaves the city, state or country doesn’t mean police will never find them.
In 2006, Greenwood police weren’t able to arrest a man charged with child molesting before he fled to Sweden, then China.
Detectives knew he was overseas but couldn’t make any headway in getting him brought back until the headmaster at a Chinese school noticed something odd about the man, searched his name on the Internet and discovered he was a registered sex offender, Detective Patti Cummings said.
That started a process with the U.S. Marshals, leading to the man being deported and sent back to the U.S., where he was arrested the minute he landed in the country, she said.
“Being on the run is very expensive. You have to have a support network, and that’s typically your family and friends. With cellphones with GPS and all that, social media, there’s a lot more ways to track someone,” Greenwood Assistant Police Chief Matt Fillenwarth said.
Detectives start by checking the last known address, which is listed on the warrant. If the person isn’t there, police may come back later in case the resident they spoke to is not telling the truth, or they may try to get more information on places the suspect might have gone, Sheriff Doug Cox said.
If it’s not a serious crime, such as child molesting or an incident where someone was badly hurt or killed, that may be the end of the search if officers can’t find the person. Police don’t have enough officers to track every single case, and they expect the suspect will eventually be caught.
That means thousands of people wanted for criminal charges continue to live free. But if they continue to break the law, they’ll eventually be sent back to face the original charge, Fillenwarth said.
“There are too many. But typically if they present an immediate risk to people, you don’t really sit down until you find them,” he said.
When a warrant is issued, whether it’s for missing a court hearing or being charged with a serious felony, each is entered into police databases for both the state and National Crime Information Center, Cox said.
Any officer who checks that person’s ID for a traffic stop, another arrest or even if they call to report a crime can see that the person is wanted in Johnson County, he said. For the most serious felonies, the warrants never expire. The county has a warrant for a woman charged with burglary and theft from August 1991, for example.
“Wherever they go, wherever they run, they’ll still get that kickback, that they’re wanted, on us,” he said.
Nationwide reporting helps police find people long after police have given up the search or last track of a person, such as Gonzalez. Police have his fingerprints on file, but Gonzalez was in the country illegally, so he doesn’t have the same kind of documents such as a Social Security number that would make it easier to find a U.S. citizen, Ketchum said.
Police don’t know where he went and have no new leads, but his warrant from 2003 remains on file so if he is ever found in the U.S. again, he’ll be brought back to Franklin, he said.
“Whenever we hear about it or see a family member, and we’re reminded of how awful we feel about the crime itself and that he fled the area before we could arrest him. Any case involving serious injury or death would certainly qualify as one we would constantly be open to tracking down any leads or information that might come in,” Ketchum said.
Police believe Gonzalez went to Mexico, which makes it more difficult to track him because it is across an international border. Communicating across international lines is one challenge, but a warrant issued by one country isn’t valid in another, so even if detectives found him, the U.S. Marshals office would have to work with Mexican authorities to investigate and send him back.
Within the U.S., police departments will cooperate with each other if they get a tip about a wanted person, Cox said. An investigator might call a city in another state and give them an address where a person might be staying, and those officers will go check it out, he said.
The sheriff’s office will make long trips to pick up people facing serious charges in Johnson County from other states. Last year, two corrections officers drove to Alabama to pick up a man wanted on a charge of sexual misconduct with a minor, and in another case officers flew to Wyoming to get a man wanted for a probation violation.
Catching a person states away from where they are wanted doesn’t always mean they’ll be sent back to go to court, though.
Distance can be a factor, depending on the charge. Some states won’t extradite, or transport, a criminal found in Johnson County if it’s too far away.
For example, a Johnson County deputy stopped a couple who were wanted for burglary in Utah, but the prosecutor in Utah didn’t want to pay to travel to Indiana to pick them up, so the deputy had to let them go, Cox said. A short time later, police arrested the couple, who were accused of breaking into houses here, he said.
“That’s a problem they’re leaving for us. A few days later they’re out here burglarizing our district,” Cox said. “We’ve seen this quite often where states will not extradite people that are wanted.”