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Published October 06 2011

Sheriffs look to recoup cost of manhunt

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – Sheriffs in Barnes and Cass counties said they plan to hold a conference call today with a private prisoner transport firm to talk about recouping costs from this week’s 22-hour manhunt that involved more than 50 law officers.

Barnes County Sheriff Randy McClaflin said he spoke Thursday to a representative of Extradition Transport of America LLC.

He said the California-based company, which is licensed and bonded, provided its insurance information during a conversation McClaflin described as “very business-like.”

“We’re going to try to set up a claim with them,” he said. “That’s going to be something that we’re going to bill them for, and if they deny it, then we’ve got to go through the court system with them.”

A woman who answered the phone at ETA headquarters Thursday afternoon said the company would have no comment.

Authorities said the manhunt involved 57 law officers from seven agencies, as well as a helicopter and airplane.

Local farmers with combines, tractors and trucks also harvested part of the cornfield five miles northwest of Tower City to help authorities flush out 29-year-old Joseph Matthew Megna, a registered sex offender wanted by Washington state on a child molestation charge.

Megna surrendered without incident at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

McClaflin said officials hope to come up with a cost estimate during their meeting today.

They also will discuss whether ETA followed federal laws regarding prisoner transport – namely the Interstate Transportation of Dangerous Criminals Act of 2000, also known as Jeanna’s Act in reference to 11-year-old Jeanna North of Fargo, who was murdered in 1993 by Kyle Bell.

Jeanna’s Act was prompted by Bell’s escape in 1999 from a private prison transport bus.

The law set minimum standards for employees transporting violent prisoners and specific regulations that companies must follow.

The rules dictate what prisoners should wear and when they should be in restraints.

Authorities say Megna was in plain clothes – blue jeans, a red shirt and black tennis shoes – and wasn’t handcuffed when he allegedly escaped from the transport van Tuesday.

The law also requires private companies transporting violent prisoners to notify local law enforcement officials 24 hours in advance of any scheduled stops in their jurisdiction.

McClaflin and Laney both have said their offices didn’t receive prior notice from ETA.

Companies that violate Jeanna’s Act are liable for a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation and must make restitution to government agencies that expend funds to capture the escaped prisoner.

A complaint must be brought to the U.S. Justice Department before the U.S. Attorney’s Office will investigate, and that hadn’t been done as of Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Reisenauer said.

Cass County Chief Deputy Jim Thoreson said he’s not aware of any sheriff’s offices in North Dakota that use private firms to transport prisoners.

Instead, they use the Northwest Shuttle, a cooperative between sheriff’s offices in 15 states, including North Dakota and Minnesota.

“I just have more confidence in our own people doing our job,” he said.

The shuttle system doesn’t carry prisoners who are considered at high risk to escape, so Washington will likely have to come here to get Megna or hire a private company to transport him, said Sgt. Michele Harmon, who oversees inmate transport for the Cass sheriff’s office.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528