Payment sought for search effortsAgencies’ cost to look for escapee exceed $50,000.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Looking for a fugitive costs money, even when he’s not found. Some South Dakota law enforcement agencies have, or will, submit a bill to the private transit firm that lost a prisoner that it was transporting through the state this summer. The total: $50,101.35. Other agencies say they will not bill the company. Those offices said they consider it just part of their job.
Oscar Antonio Herrera-Menjivar escaped from an Inmate Services Corp. van July 14 when it stopped at a truck stop along Interstate 90 near Spencer.
Officers from Turner, McCook, Hutchinson and Minnehaha counties, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service, the South Dakota Highway Patrol, and the Sioux Falls Police Department sent staffers, vehicles and dogs to try to find the escapee.
After searching for him for more than a week in blazing hot weather, with two reported sightings, the effort was halted. Herrera-Menjivar, 31, has since been spotted in Omaha, Neb., but law enforcement officials believe he has left that area and may be in Florida, New York, Mexico or El Salvador.
Inmate Services Corp., which is based in West Memphis, Ark., states on its website that it is “fully insured.” Company President Randy L. Cagle Jr. said he does not know if his firm will pay any claims.
McCook County Emergency Manager Brad Stiefvater said the county sent a bill for $5,236.35 to the firm.
That was the cost the county incurred during searches on July 14 in McCook County and July 18 in Turner County, Stiefvater said.
McCook County Sheriff Mark Norris and five deputies were involved in the searches. Norris said his office bills towns $32.50 per hour for a deputy in a vehicle.
Stiefvater also searched from the air in his own plane, and billed his standard rate for that.
In addition, the county established a command post at the Fuel Mart where Herrera-Menjivar escaped and used generators to power it. The bill was sent in July.
“Haven’t seen a dime yet,” Norris said.
Cagle said he wasn’t sure if he had received the McCook County bill. Turner County Sheriff Byron Nogelmeier said his department’s costs were $1,865 with some other costs that have not been totaled. The Centerville Fire Department brought in a portable toilet, and the American Red Cross provided water during a search that was conducted in temperatures that hovered in the triple digits. Neither submitted a bill, the sheriff said, but he will for his office’s costs.
“I’m planning on it,” he said. “They’re a private company doing this kind of job for hire,” Nogelmeier said days after the escape. “I suppose they have some kind of insurance. They lost part of their load and it’s costing some money to put him away or find him. Why should the taxpayers of Turner County have to pay for their negligence, if there was negligence?”
Hutchinson County Sheriff Jim Zeeb said he will not bill the inmate transfer firm.
He sent one deputy who was involved in the search for five or six hours. The cost was probably about $200, Zeeb said, but he will not seek to recover that.
“I’ve never heard of that before, charging somebody for doing our job,” he said.
The Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office sent six deputies to assist in the search but will not submit a bill to the firm. No figure was given for its costs.
“Typically we do not bill,” said Capt. Paul Niedringhaus. “It’s something we do to assist other law enforcement agencies.”
The Sioux Falls Police Department will not submit a bill, said spokesman Sam Clemens, who also did not offer a total for the services provided.
“Just part of our job,” Clemens said.
The South Dakota Highway Patrol’s costs totaled about $34,000 and the DCI’s investigation costs totaled about $9,000. The two agencies are working together to submit a bill to the company.
U.S. Marshals Service Supervising Deputy Tom Genz said no bill will be issued from his office. “We look for fugitives as part of our job,” Genz said. “Wouldn’t think of doing that.” He said there were four marshals involved in the cornfield search after Herrera-Menjivar escaped.
“We’re federal criminal investigators,” Genz said. “We don’t incur overtime.”