It’s 5:30 a.m. in Los Angeles. The sun has yet to come up over the palm trees and skyscrapers, but at a downtown coffee shop, members of our fugitive task force are already at work.
A lead has come in on a 33-year-old security guard wanted for assault with a deadly weapon—the man allegedly stabbed his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend—and a team of special agents and detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department is deciding on a plan of action.
Members of our Los Angeles Fugitive Task Force review the case, sharing pictures of the subject, his rap sheet, and—most importantly—information about his car. The subject’s black Honda sedan is reportedly parked near his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, which means he is likely nearby.
“Chasing fugitives is like a chess match,” said Special Agent Scott Garriola, a 22-year veteran of the Bureau who has been working these cases for more than a decade. “You try to anticipate their actions and get one step ahead of them,” he explained. “Will they flee the state or the country, or will they lay low close to home? Do we talk to their mothers and girlfriends? Or do we use a different approach and follow a paper trail?”
The FBI is known around the world for its fugitive program—our Ten Most Wanted Fugitive list was established 60 years ago—and we work with local, state, and federal law enforcement partners as well as international organizations like Interpol to capture criminals on the run. We have task forces similar to the L.A. fugitive team at many of our field offices.
Garriola has tracked his share of Top Ten fugitives. He was the lead investigator for Top Tenner Emigdio Preciado, who attacked police officers and was captured last year in Mexico. Garriola is also the case agent for a current Top Ten fugitive, Joe Luis Saenz.
Not every fugitive makes the Top Ten list, however—or the headlines. And the L.A. task force doesn’t just work high-profile cases. “We prioritize by how bad the offender is and how strong the leads are,” Garriola said.
Today’s subject is a case in point. The man is not a serial killer or a terrorist, but he is wanted for a violent felony, and the tip about his car has proven to be accurate. By 6:30 a.m., the team—dressed in street clothes and driving unmarked vehicles—has set up surveillance on the car and the ex-girlfriend’s residence a block away.
Now it’s a waiting game. “There’s a lot of down time,” Garriola said, sitting in his car, a picture of the subject displayed on his dashboard.
“Our work involves hours of waiting around and then a couple minutes of adrenaline rush” when a target is located and arrested.
“Chasing fugitives is like a chess match. You try to anticipate their actions and get one step ahead of them. "
FBI Special Agent
Los Angeles Fugitive Task Force
More than four hours after the stakeout began, a man in a blue windbreaker is spotted walking toward the Honda. The team radios come to life. “This looks like our guy,” a detective said. “Affirmative,” another replied.
As the subject approaches the car, the team swiftly converges—some on foot, others in cars. A strong show of force convinces him to give up quietly. He is quickly handcuffed and taken to jail.
Garriola estimates there are tens of thousands of outstanding warrants in the California legal system, and a great many of them are for violent offenders. “The task force has no shortage of work,” he said.
- Wanted by the FBI
- Interpol Leads International Fugitive Sweep (07/15/10)
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