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How many Hank Carrs
are out there?

By GEOFF DOUGHERTY and WAYNE WASHINGTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 1998


Hank Earl Carr lived on the lam and thumbed his nose at the criminal justice system, staying free for six years after he should have been jailed for violating his probation.

In that respect, at least, he was just like thousands of other bay-area residents.

Carr, who killed a child, three police officers and then himself on Tuesday, was the subject of just one of the 143,000 backlogged arrest warrants in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Many of the offenders, police acknowledge, will never be brought to justice.

"I can't believe it," said Rep. Alex Villalobos, chairman of the state House Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee. "If that number is accurate, then we have an emergency."

The problem is well-known to law enforcement officers, said Tom Berlinger of the Florida Sheriff's Association. But the police haven't wanted to talk about it.

"I suspect that there are hundreds and hundreds of Carr-type individuals in Florida at any given moment," he said. "When you think about it, it's kind of scary."

Figures obtained by the Times show the likelihood of most fugitives getting caught is slim:

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Pinellas County has 48,612 outstanding warrants, nearly a quarter of them for felonies. The Pinellas Sheriff's Office warrant unit made arrests on about 11,000 outstanding warrants last year.

Hillsborough County has a backlog of 67,000 warrants.

Pasco County is holding 27,000 warrants. If prior years are any indication, officials will make arrests on about 14 percent of them 1998.

For Berlinger, those figures are frustrating -- and frightening.

"There are more people than we would care to admit who thumb their noses not only at law enforcement, but at the criminal justice system," he said. "I think if you went to any sheriff's office in the state, you would find untold thousands of warrants for people who simply disappear to avoid further prosecution."

The problem is one of sheer numbers. In Pinellas, the Sheriff's Office received 58,000 new warrants last year, said Lt. Ray Poole. Across the bay area, about 100,000 new warrants rolled in last year.

"I would strongly suspect that the sheriff's offices in these jurisdictions are severely understaffed for warrants," said Lynn Tepper, a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge.

Florida's transient nature makes things worse. Carr isn't unusual: He was born in Georgia, moved to Sarasota County, left Florida as a wanted man in the early 1990s but later returned, settling in a new county.

"We get people here from all over the country," said Marianne Pasha, spokeswoman for the Pinellas Sheriff's Office. "They're all on the move and sometimes it takes a while to catch up with them."

Money is also an issue. Police who encountered Carr in Ohio did not know he had violated his probation in Florida because his name was never entered into a national database. Hillsborough officials said doing so would have been futile, because they didn't have the money to bring Carr back to Florida.

Refusing to extradite is a common practice across the state.

Capt. Roger Dutcher of the Marietta, Ohio, police department said he wasn't at all surprised that Hillsborough County showed no interest in getting Carr back.

"In Florida, they normally won't come pick these people up," he said.

Villalobos said law enforcement officials have not complained to the Legislature about difficulty in punishing those who run from the law.

"How sad that this tragedy has to happen for you to figure out that you have so many outstanding felony warrants," said Villalobos, R-Miami.

The way the system works, law enforcement officials said, encourages criminals to disrespect the courts.

"A lot of them, they get the attitude: This is okay because I'm going to get away with it," said Poole. "And some of them certainly do."

Like Carr, others who skip court dates or flee their probation officers often use their freedom to commit more crimes.

The cops who chase fugitives for a living say it's difficult knowing that so many go free. It's even more difficult now that one of them is responsible for the death of three fellow officers.

"It disturbs me, knowing that there are people getting away with it," Poole said. "Right this minute, it makes me a lot angrier than it did on Monday, because this just happened."
-- Times staff writer Jo Becker contributed to this story.


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