U.S. Marshals: Taking Career Criminals to Task

Marshals task forces look to reduce crime and take criminals off streets.

May 11, 2009— -- "He's gunning it. He's gunning it!"

Near Atlanta, U.S. Marshals were chasing a man wanted on charges that include allegations of aggravated assault on a police officer, attempting to escape and elude authorities. They also suspected the man was addicted to crack and methamphetamine and in the middle of a car-stealing spree.

The cars picked up speed as the suspect tries to elude the authorities. But shortly after Douglas Parker raced past two children walking down the street, the chase was over.

Watch "World News with Charles Gibson" Tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET for the full report.

"He just wrecked, he just wrecked," one of the officers said over the radio.

Parker tries to run, but authorities tackled and Tasered him.

The car is stolen, and inside, officials say they find a loaded gun, suspected drugs, stolen license plates and cash.

Parker had at least nine previous convictions, ranging from theft to battery.

His arrest is part of a new strategy deployed nationwide by U.S. Marshals and police. To reduce or control violent crime, authorities target career criminals -- chronic repeat offenders. Earlier this year, ABC News got an exclusive look at the inner workings of the initiative.

Marshals First Line of Defense

In recent years, more and more police departments have developed a new strategy to reduce or hold down crime rates, but rising crime is a concern for authorities as the economy continues its downturn.

They systematically target their regions' worst repeat offenders, who boost local crime and terrorize communities. At the tip of the spear: The U.S. Marshals, who work on regional task forces, such as the Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force in the Atlanta area.

Many of the task force members are not federal agents but local police officers hand-picked to work in the specialized unit. The local officers are fully deputized and proudly wear the iconic U.S. Marshals star.

Nationwide, the Marshals helped take 109,000 violent fugitives off the street last year and cleared more than 760,000 felony warrants in federal, state and local cases in the last decade, according to federal crime statistics compiled by the U.S. Marshals Service. And since 2003, the Marshals and police in the Atlanta area alone have cut the murder rate by 22 percent and overall violent crime by more than one-third.

Career Criminals: 'It's Their Livelihood'

Fugitives tend to repeat their patterns of behavior, according to James Ergas, a U.S. Marshal and the supervisory inspector for the Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force.

"A guy that is a violent criminal isn't going to go get a job and work 9 to 5. That's what he does. It's their livelihood," Ergas said. "And if we don't go find them, they're going to continue to do that to people."

Ergas said that the "vast majority" of suspects his unit chases are wanted for a violent crime. "More than 85 [percent to] 95 percent of the cases," he said. "And again, about 70 [percent to] 80 percent repeat violent offenders. So you go out with that mind-set."

A few hours later, it's close to midnight, and the task force has tracked another suspect to a friend's apartment.

"It's the police. Open the door or we're going to take it down!" the authorities yelled as they pounded on the suspect's door.

Derrick Lakeith Lee, convicted in the past on an array of charges, including assault and battery, burglary, drugs, weapons possession and robbery, is now wanted on aggravated assault charges for allegedly spraying his girlfriend's car with bullets.

"Derrick, come talk to us -- we're not leaving!" Ergas said through the door, in an attempt to talk the suspect into surrendering.

But Lee refused, so the team broke down the door and threw in a flash bang -- a nonlethal stun device that disorients those in range when it detonates.

"He fought investigators as they were trying to secure him, at which point in time he was Tased," Ergas said after the scene is contained. "Even while being Tased and even after the initial Tasing, he continued to fight."

Amid the chaotic scene, the authorities make a sad discovery: There is a young boy inside with the suspect. He was a relative of the man who leased the apartment; authorities removed him from the scene, medical personnel checked him over and he reunited with his parents.

Wanted men, hiding in suburbia, often show little regard for those around them, the authorities said. "There's nothing more messed up than someone being willing to put a child's safety at risk for themselves," Ergas said.

Manhunt in Suburbia

On another night, during a manhunt for a suspected illegal immigrant who officials say is on the run from New York, that becomes apparent again.

Before the marshals head to a home they have had under surveillance, a member of the team briefs the group on the suspect's background.

Mohamed Jaal, the Marshal said, is a Jamaican national originally from Sierra Leone who is wanted for allegedly shooting his girlfriend while she was holding her child.

Jaal is in the country illegally, authorities said, and allegedly fled from authorities before and threatened to take his own life.

As the team raided the home, it took an innocent man, who grew up with the suspect, down to the floor. Children came out the front door, screaming and crying as the scene unfolded.

As they continued to search the home, the authorities found the suspect hiding in the garage.

Meanwhile, a mother came to terms with the fact that her family unknowingly harbored a man accused of being a violent fugitive.

"Do you know what that guy did?" a Marshal asked the woman as they sat in the living room of the home. She gasped audibly and put her head in her hands as the federal agent said, "He shot his girlfriend in the chest."

Police say that an unsuspecting community was harboring a ticking time bomb. It hoped his capture would prevent more crimes.

But with the nation's economy faltering, and higher unemployment, police fear they might soon be seeing more career criminals.

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