COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A longtime U.S. Marshals Service tool for capturing people with warrants out for their arrest was under scrutiny in a federal Ohio courtroom where a judge weighed the employment status of non-federal officers who help marshals chase people on the run.
At issue are fugitive task forces operated by the Marshals Service around the country that pursue some of the country’s most-wanted criminals.
In 2020, an Ohio sheriff’s deputy assigned full-time to one such task force shot and killed a man in a run-in unrelated to the unit’s mission and after the deputy’s shift ended for the day. Defendant Jason Meade has pleaded not guilty to murder and reckless homicide charges in the 2020 killing of 23-year-old Casey Goodson Jr.
Meade was a full-time sheriff’s deputy at the time of the shooting; he has since retired on disability. His attorneys argue he was a federal officer for all intents and purposes, and want his case moved to federal court. Prosecutors trying him for murder say the shooting had nothing to do with his work as a temporary federal officer.
HOW ARE THE TASK FORCES ORGANIZED?
The Marshals Service operates eight regional fugitive task forces in places like the New York/New Jersey, Great Lakes and Washington, D.C., areas, and another 56 local task forces in states across the country. These latter task forces consist of state and local police officers working as special deputy U.S. marshals. Among those is the Southern Ohio Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team, or SOFAST, that Meade served on in Columbus.
The agency and its task forces arrested more than 77,000 state and local fugitives in 2020 alone, according to the most recent available data. The units were created by the Presidential Threat Protection Act of 2000 “for the purpose of locating and apprehending fugitives.”
WHO SERVES ON THE TASK FORCES?
The local units typically consist of deputy U.S. marshals and local and state law enforcement officers on full-time assignment. Local agencies make the opportunity aware to officers, who apply and undergo an interview process with the Marshals Service, according to Feb. 11 court testimony by Ryan Rosser, a full-time Columbus police officer who was assigned to the same task force as Meade in 2017.
Non-federal task force members remain full-time employees of their respective police departments who pay their salary, according to the Marshals Service and court testimony.
Meade, an Iraq War veteran, joined the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in 2003 and was a Special Weapons and Tactics officer. He joined the task force in 2017 and worked Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
HOW DO THE TASK FORCES OPERATE?
The unit Meade and Rosser were assigned to typically starts the day with a briefing in a near-downtown Columbus task force office, followed by work in the field, according to court testimony.
Operations are closely regulated, according to Feb. 11 testimony by Charles Sanso, a Marshals Service supervisor who oversees four fugitive task forces in the southern half of Ohio.
Before a task force can pursue a wanted criminal, a fugitive identification number must be issued, and the warrant must be validated, Sanso said. Non-federal task force members have the singular duty of pursuing fugitives, Sanso testified, and don’t have any of the other responsibilities of full-time deputy U.S. marshals, such as witness protection, transporting prisoners and protecting judges.
WHAT WERE THE ARGUMENTS BEFORE THE OHIO FEDERAL JUDGE?
Meade’s attorneys want the case tried in federal court as a step toward having the state charges dismissed, and because it is far less likely Meade would be charged with killing Goodson under federal law.
“Meade’s primary responsibilities were to assist other team members in arresting violent fugitives and other felons,” Steve Nolder, an attorney representing Meade, said in a Dec. 3 court filing. “As such, on December 4, 2020, Deputy Meade was acting as a federal officer when he shot Casey Goodson, Jr.”
Franklin County prosecutors are fighting the move to keep the charges against Meade alive in state court.
Facts of the case “do not clearly support a finding that he was even a federal officer at the time of the offense given that his activities as a SOFAST member had concluded for the day and members of the task force were leaving the field,” special prosecutors Tim Merkle and Gary Shroyer argued in a Dec. 7 filing.
Meade’s salary was still paid by the county, and he was authorized only to “seek and execute arrest and search warrants” under his marshals’ assignment, according to court documents and testimony at the Feb. 11 hearing.
Meade has pleaded not guilty and is free on $250,000 bond.
Federal Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. on Thursday rejected the arguments by Meade’s attorneys and ruled his case properly belongs in state court. Meade’s attorneys say they are considering whether to appeal.