Saturday, February 18th, 2012
By Margie Wuebker
Sheriff continues to go after felons who skip town
New jail affords space to handle more inmates
  The Mercer County Sheriff's Office continues to return indicted felons to the area to face charges.
Sheriff Jeff Grey began the crackdown in 2010 after the new 100-bed Mercer County Detention Center opened. The old jail could hold only 15 inmates.
"Some felony-level offenders run before the indictment paperwork is served and others skip out prior to sentencing," Grey said.
Seventy-seven people were brought back for court action in 2011. The majority face charges related to assault, nonsupport, domestic violence, burglaries/thefts, drugs and having weapons illegally.
Their outstanding warrants appeared on the sheriff's website, the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS) and the FBI's National Crime Information Center. The latter systems are used by law enforcement officers nationally and checked routinely.
Pursuing out-of-state felons comes with a price tag, however, the money does not come from regular operating expenses. County sheriffs can request an amount up to half of their county-paid salaries for special projects such as extraditions.
"I typically ask the commissioners for $3,000 to $5,000 of the allotted $26,000," Grey said. "And it's used to cover the cost of extradition."
The sheriff's office spent slightly more - $5,658.18 - on airfare in 2011 with three flights to Florida and one to San Antonio, Texas.
Two deputies make the trips but seldom set foot outside the airport.
"Law enforcement agencies in those jurisdictions have the person we want at the airport eliminating the need for overnight stays," Grey said.
A recent trip to Volusia County, Fla., is one example. Deputies got off a plane, met with local authorities, signed the necessary paperwork and took possession of the prisoner. They boarded another plane a short time later and flew back to Dayton. The cruiser then headed homeward.
Road trips included multiple visits to Indiana as well as Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois and West Virgina for a total of 6,320 miles. Deputies logged another 9,605 miles collecting people on outstanding warrants in Ohio.
The 77 trips logged either by cruiser or airplane represented 564.5 hours - the majority regular duty time and not overtime, Grey said. The sheriff's office is required to provide a meal for inmates in transiet. Deputies buy their own in accordance with Internal Revenue Service guidelines.
Deputies traveled to Rolla, Mo., last week to collect Melissa Phillips, who was wanted in connection with a 2009 case involving the assault of a Coldwater police officer.
Phillips was initially apprehended in Oklahoma on an outstanding warrant but escaped from a hospital where she had been taken for treatment. Missouri authorities took her into custody on a similar warrant listed in LEADS and contacted the sheriff's office.
"We decided to go by cruiser instead of by plane to lessen the likelihood of another escape," Grey said.
Two female deputies left early one morning and stayed overnight before picking up Phillips and returning to the Mercer County Detention Center the next day.
The majority of the extraditions involve people wanted for violent crimes, although Grey also targets offenders who have thousands of dollars in unpaid child-support payments. One of the men brought back from Florida owed more than $31,000.
"No one would classify nonsupport a violent crime," the sheriff said. "As offenders roll up bigger and bigger debts, single moms are having to go on welfare to make ends meet and that impacts taxpayers."
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