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Panhandle posse works to nab area's most wanted

July 16, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - The name alone conjures up images of a tough, no-nonsense bunch. The United Fugitive Apprehension Posse.

It's a select group of local police officers led by the U.S. Marshals Service out to get the worst criminals off the streets of West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle.

Sometimes you won't even know they're around.

Periodically dressed in plain clothes, members of the posse might quietly filter into a neighborhood and knock on a door where they believe a wanted person has been staying, said Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Ulrich.

If there is no answer, posse members might continue moving and no one will know they have been there, Ulrich said.

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The United Fugitive Apprehension Posse was created in 2004 as an extra tool to fight crime in the growing Eastern Panhandle area, according to Ulrich.

Police officers from nine local police departments who are "deputized" to serve in the posse have the ability to cross the jurisdictional lines of their respective departments to apprehend wanted suspects, Ulrich said.

Not only are members of the group specialized in catching dangerous suspects, but the organization allows local police agencies to tap into a national fugitive search network to better help them solve cases, according to Ulrich.

The U.S. Marshals Service helps lead fugitive search groups across the country. The local group helped the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department nab a man wanted in a July 2005 fatal shooting in a motel parking lot at 1022 Winchester Ave. in Martinsburg.

Suspect Edward C. Grimes left the area after the shooting of Ronald K. Kidrick, but with the help of the United Fugitive Apprehension Posse, authorities were able to pick up Grimes in Baltimore, Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said.

About 22 local police officers started the United Fugitive Apprehension Posse, and Smith said he believes about six of his deputies work with the group.

Posse members conduct their work along with their other duties, and sometimes they work overtime with the group, Smith said.

"It's a unique arrangement," Smith said.

The local posse is selective in which fugitives it goes after, and it typically focuses on suspects wanted in crimes involving drugs and violence.

Since the formation of the group, more than 490 federal and local fugitives have been arrested, resulting in the closure of more than 640 warrants, Ulrich said.

The United Fugitive Apprehension Posse sprang into action again July 5 when members of the group learned that two fugitives wanted for allegedly dealing significant amounts of crack cocaine were in the Hagerstown area.

Five posse members, including Ulrich, went to Washington County and were assisted by the Hagerstown Police Department, the Washington County Sheriff's Department and Maryland State Police in looking for the suspects.

The search led them to a house off White Pine Drive where they believed the suspects might have been and they started a search of the home, Ulrich said.

The suspects were found hiding in an attic.

Were they surprised?

"I think so," said Ulrich. "The standard question is 'How did you find me?'"

Kyle Justin Coleman, 23, and Tyshee Johnson, 22, of Hagerstown, were wanted on warrants charging them with conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine and four other counts of distribution of crack cocaine, officials said.

The word posse hearkens back to the American Old West, when a local sheriff would round up a group of able-bodied men to hunt down a wanted suspect, Ulrich said.

"We did a little throwback to history," Ulrich said about the name of the local police group.

But this is a posse in modern time.

In this age of cell phones and computers, the United Fugitive Apprehension Posse has the latest technology "plus more" to find and apprehend suspects, said Kevin Stone, supervisor of the local U.S. Marshals Service.

Stone declined to say what type of equipment the fugitive search group uses, but he said some of the equipment costs up to $400,000.




Just the facts...


The United Fugitive Apprehension Posse is made up of members of nine law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Marshals Service, West Virginia State Police, Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, Martinsburg Police Department, Charles Town Police Department, Ranson Police Department, Shepherdstown Police Department and the Harpers Ferry Police Department.

The task force maintains a list of its most wanted fugitives, which can be viewed at the Web site . The public can e-mail anonymous tips at the Web site.

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