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Thursday, April 27, 2006 - Page updated at 02:37 PM

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Roundup snares fugitives, suspects, unregistered sex offenders

Seattle Times staff reporter

Tom Lanier, a supervisory deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service in Seattle, scrolled through a spreadsheet of names on his laptop computer. The list was a running tally of more than 100 unregistered sex offenders, fugitives and criminal suspects recently arrested in Western Washington as part of a national roundup.

Several on Lanier's list had fled the state.

"We arrested this guy in Hawaii," Lanier said last week as he showed a photo of Herbert Damwijk, a man charged in Snohomish County last year on suspicion of molesting two 8-year-old girls.

"He was being hidden out by family members for some time," Lanier said.

Damwijk is now also suspected of molesting a girl in California.

Last week, 27 states, mostly west of the Mississippi River, participated in Operation FALCON II, a concerted roundup of fugitives ordered by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that focused special attention on suspects wanted for sex crimes and crimes committed against women, children and vulnerable adults.

Other priority targets included people wanted on warrants involving homicides, robberies, assaults, firearm violations and major drug crimes. In a news conference this morning, Gonzales announced that nationwide, Operation FALCON II had netted 9,037 suspects, including more than 1,100 people wanted in sex crimes. Gonzales' announcement was timed to coincide with this week's annual National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

In Western Washington, officers under Lanier's command arrested 171 people, including 35 unregistered sex offenders. Sixteen of the fugitives were found hiding in 12 states, Lanier said.

Results of the local FALCON operation were announced this afternoon at a news conference at the federal courthouse in Seattle. FALCON is an acronym for Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally.

Lanier was Western Washington's point man for Operation FALCON II, which brought together more than 100 officers from 22 agencies for the weeklong blitz aimed at clearing old warrants and catching suspects wanted for new crimes. Most of the people arrested by the local operation were wanted in King, Snohomish and Clark counties, Lanier said.

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In the weeks leading up to the operation, Laniercompiled a list of about 600 targets and sent out leads on the whereabouts of fugitives to Marshals Service offices in 25 states and American Samoa where several of those targets were thought to be living.

"It's been a pretty good operation. We've had some really good, good warrants," Lanier said last week from a ninth-floor conference room in the federal courthouse in Seattle that served as the nerve center for the regional effort.

Lanier heads the Pacific Northwest Fugitive Apprehension Task Force, which has the full-time task of tracking and arresting Western Washington fugitives and suspects wanted on felony warrants. In the past four years, the task force — composed of 12 detectives from the Marshals Service, Seattle Police Department, King County Sheriff's Office, state Department of Corrections and U.S. Social Security Administration — has arrested 2,300 people.

Though FALCON II officially ended Sunday, Lanier said task-force detectives will continue to hunt for people whose possible whereabouts were unearthed during the operation.

. So far this week, Lanier's officers have arrested 10 more suspects, and this morning, Lanier said U.S. marshals in Colorado were attempting to arrest a man wanted by the King County Sheriff's Office on five counts of first-degree rape of a child.

"They're kind of like bloodhounds — once they get that scent, they don't want to quit," U.S. Marshal Eric Robertson said. "After weeks of working up information and finally getting something that's probable, they just don't want to give up until they get their person."

In addition to the suspects arrested, Lanier eliminated dozens of felony warrants issued by local courts after confirming that at least 20 of his targets are now serving lengthy prison sentences and that 40 others are dead, including John Michael Hooker.

Hooker, Lanier said, was wanted by Seattle police for a 1986 rape. He was executed in Oklahoma three years ago for fatally stabbing his former girlfriend and her mother.

Most police departments across the country, including the Seattle department, "don't have full-time fugitive squads," Lanier explained. "They have so many new crimes to investigate that they don't have time to go look for people."

The weeklong operation allowed the Marshals Service to help local agencies find fugitives, many of whom have eluded police for years, as well as sex offenders who have failed to register their addresses with police as required by law.

Lanier said a few people tried to run and that others — especially those "who had gotten comfortable and quit looking over their shoulders" after years on the lam — were surprised when officers showed up at their doors. But he noted that none of the Western Washington teams had to deal with suspects who violently resisted arrest.

"We know exactly who we're chasing, we know their history, and we know their patterns," he said. "If all of a sudden you're seeing seven guys with guns coming at you, well, superiority of firearms always wins."

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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