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Back to Archives | Back to September 2005 Contents 

Apprehending a Fugitive: A Thanksgiving to Remember

By Tim Stehr, Captain, Burbank Police Department, Burbank, California, and John Clark, Chief Inspector, U.S. Marshals Service, Los Angeles, California

n Saturday, November 15, 2003, at 5:40 p.m., 20-year veteran Officer Greg Campbell had a plan. He would work for six hours and then take off early to fly to Oakland, California, with his 11-year-old son. Campbell had obtained tickets for an Oakland Raiders football game on Sunday and was looking forward to a weekend getaway with his son. All Campbell needed to do was leave work on time and everything else would fall into place. Unfortunately, that weekend getaway never materialized. Instead, the evening turned into a nightmare and a tragedy for Campbell and the entire Burbank Police Department.

By 6:30 p.m., Campbell was on patrol. He drove through Burbank, and then turned into the parking lot of the Burbank Ramada Inn. As he drove through the hotel's rear parking lot, an area frequented by drug users, Campbell spotted a black Cadillac Escalade parked in the lot. Two men were in the car. As Campbell drove past the Cadillac, he noticed that the vehicle's registration had expired.

Campbell stopped his patrol car and then slowly reversed to gain a position of advantage behind the Cadillac. He radioed dispatch, telling the dispatcher that he was stepping from his car in order to talk to the occupants. He exited his patrol car, walked up to the driver of the Escalade, and asked for identification and a vehicle registration. The driver handed Campbell false identification and could not produce a current vehicle registration. Campbell, a highly trained narcotics officer with an extensive defensive tactics background, immediately sensed that something was wrong. He suspected that the men were involved in criminal activity so he radioed the dispatcher a second time and requested backup. Dispatchers sent Officer Matthew Pavelka, a rookie with 10 months on the force, to assist Campbell.

What Officer Campbell did not know at the time was that the driver, Ramon Arranda, and the passenger, David Garcia, were active members of a violent criminal street gang known as the Vineland Boys. Both Arranda and Garcia were key members of a large illegal drug operation, and, at the time, were hiding illegal drugs and numerous handguns in their car.

Also unknown to the officer was that Arranda was determined to avoid prison. A few minutes earlier, as Campbell's patrol car had slowly passed by, Arranda whispered to Garcia that prison was not an option. Arranda was not going back to prison. As Officer Campbell positioned his patrol car behind the Escalade, Arranda reached for his handgun. As Campbell walked up to the car, Arranda hid the handgun, away from Campbell's view.

Officer Pavelka arrived at the scene. He positioned himself on the passenger side of the vehicle. When Officer Campbell saw that Officer Pavelka was in place, he asked Arranda to exit the vehicle. Arranda made motions as if he was planning to comply, but rather than exit the car, Arranda hurriedly raised his handgun and fired two shots at pointblank range into Campbell. One of Arranda's bullets hit Campbell in the stomach. The other struck Campbell on the right side of his head. Campbell was seriously wounded, but he managed to draw his weapon and fire twice in Arranda's direction. Then Campbell collapsed.

As Campbell lay on the ground, paralyzed, bleeding, and gravely wounded, Officer Pavelka reacted. He took heroic and immediate action. He radioed for help and ran to Campbell's aid, and then a fierce gun battle between Officer Pavelka and Arranda followed. Both men were struck repeatedly and both began to bleed profusely. At one point, Arranda moved to the front passenger side of the vehicle and continued to fire. Pavelka slid to the rear passenger side and continued to fire. Finally, Arranda collapsed, fatally wounded.

A seriously wounded Pavelka began crawling back toward his police vehicle to take cover. At that moment, the passenger, David Garcia, made a decision that would change the city of Burbank and its police department forever. Garcia exited the Cadillac, drew one of his guns, and repeatedly shot Officer Pavelka. Pavelka was forced to engage in a second and equally fierce gun battle, this time with Garcia. During the battle, the exhausted Pavelka fell to his knees, still shooting at Garcia.
Garcia continued to shoot back at Officer Pavelka. As the terminally wounded Pavelka crawled behind the tire of his patrol car for cover, Garcia retrieved another handgun. Callously, without remorse or emotion, Garcia walked over to an incapacitated Pavelka and shot him. Officer Pavelka became the first Burbank police officer killed in the line of duty in the department's 82-year history.

As he heard the police sirens approaching, Garcia fled. He jumped over the rear fence of the Ramada Inn and ran along the shoulder of Interstate 5. Interstate 5 was the same interstate that Garcia would use, later that day, to flee to Mexico in order to escape arrest. It was the same interstate that Garcia would again travel, 13 days later, when officers escorted him back to California.

The shooting nearly claimed a third officer. In a related incident, Officer Randy Lloyd was severely injured as he responded to Pavelka's call. Lloyd was returning to the police station when he heard Pavelka's call on the radio. Lloyd immediately turned around and headed for the Ramada Inn, but he lost control of his police motorcycle while crossing a rain-slicked section of railroad track. The crash broke Lloyd's arms and legs.

Incident Analysis
An analysis of the incident revealed that help arrived quickly but not soon enough to save Officer Pavelka's life. Responding officers found Campbell and Pavelka gravely wounded and bleeding profusely. Nearby, they found Lloyd seriously injured. As ambulances, officers, and command staff converged on the scene, everyone realized the extent of the tragedy. The department requested outside resources as officers prepared for the largest manhunt in the department's history.

The law enforcement community and its grapevine is the same in a sprawling metropolis like Los Angeles as it is in a rural community. When a suspect kills or seriously injures an officer, the response from fellow officers is immediate and overwhelming. It did not take long for the news to travel. Throughout the agencies in the Burbank area, news that one officer had been killed and another seriously wounded was quickly relayed. Officers and agents from numerous local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies offered assistance. The surrounding departments of Glendale, Los Angeles, San Fernando, and Pasadena, and the California Highway Patrol, all offered the full use of their resources. Officers closed Interstate 5 and began a massive manhunt with K-9 units, special response teams, and every available police resource.

The Challenges
There are two essential albeit challenging aspects to any high-profile complex investigation. The first is the collection, management, and dissemination of critical information. The second is the establishment of an effective and efficient system of command and control. The formation and management of the multiagency task force that located and apprehended David Garcia demonstrated the importance of both these aspects.

Within hours of the shooting, personnel and other resources flooded the Burbank Police Department. Officers and agents from the police departments of Burbank, Glendale, Los Angeles and Pasadena, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, the California Department of Justice, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service, and several narcotics task forces all arrived to assist. For the next 13 days, it would be the responsibility of the Burbank Police Department to manage the task force and to coordinate the activities of hundreds of law enforcement officers from a wide variety of agencies.

Officers gathered information from interviews, surveillances, search warrants, collateral arrests, and human and electronic intelligence. Enormous amounts of information and intelligence flowed into the task force. Staff reviewed and evaluated the information, and then followed up with additional surveillances or investigative activities. Everyone understood that information was vital to the investigation because it could be one of the keys to Garcia's apprehension. Equally important, the information could be invaluable evidence in his prosecution. As a result, to ensure that the information was managed efficiently, officers and agents emphasized open and effective two-way communication among all participants.

Taking Command
The Burbank Police Department established a command post in a large room in the police station. As the manhunt progressed, as many as 22 surveillance teams were working in the field. Hundreds of other officers were serving search warrants, arresting other gang members, and questioning associates of Arranda and Garcia. The department established a tip line to field, filter, and disseminate information provided by citizen callers. The Fox television program America's Most Wanted immediately profiled Garcia on its show. Officers used every possible resource and investigative tool in an effort to locate and apprehend Garcia. Several phone lines, critical to the investigation, were wiretapped. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department undertook the time- and resource-consuming task of obtaining the necessary warrants as well as monitoring the lines.

The complexity of all the different activities required constant coordination and communication. To ensure maximum efficiency and minimize any duplication of effort, staff held three daily briefings to update all participants on the progress and status of the investigation. These briefings would prove to be beneficial, not only to the integrity of the investigation but also to the continued intensity, interest, and esprit de corps of all involved.

The Role of the U.S. Marshals Service
Among the agencies responding to the shooting scene and the command post were members of the U.S. Marshals Service Technical Operations Group (TOG) and its Pacific Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force (PSWRFTF). Both are components of the U.S. Marshals Service Investigative Services Division. For members of the PSWRFTF and TOG, the Garcia task force was a natural extension of their normal daily routine. Marshals work in partnership with other law enforcement agencies to locate and apprehend murderers, robbers, and rapists wanted by other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

As the investigation evolved, the marshals' separate but inextricably linked components would play a pivotal role in the successful capture of Garcia. The marshals offered to assist the task force and, in a short time, set up their equipment and established themselves as a fixture in the command post. The marshals were experienced in electronic surveillance; therefore, the task force commander designated the Marshals Service to handle all of the tips and investigative leads that involved technical applications. Originally, the task force commander from the Burbank Police Department had little prior experience with the Marshals Service, but within 24 hours the commander recognized the expertise and importance of the marshals. The marshals brought their unwavering commitment and significant experience in finding fugitives to the task force.

The Marshals Service is the Justice Department's lead agency for fugitive investigations. They investigate high-profile, complex fugitive cases and have 215 years of experience in finding fugitives worldwide. Marshals have developed a proven method for finding fugitives by applying a wide variety of traditional investigative tools and techniques in conjunction with modern technology. They use the latest electronic and financial surveillance equipment and techniques, and they share that expertise and ability with their law enforcement partners. They sponsor a growing worldwide network of multiagency fugitive task forces and foreign field offices. The Garcia task force was a classic example of that assistance and cooperation.

Marshals knew that Garcia would be the most vulnerable and more likely to make mistakes that would lead to his capture, in the hours immediately following the shooting. With the passage of time, Garcia would have the opportunity to plan rather than react, to make calculated decisions, and to arrange for the financial, logistical, and other support that he would need to avoid apprehension. Time was critical, but the marshals were prepared. They had a well-earned reputation for swiftness and tenacity.

Garcia Flees to Mexico
As the investigation progressed, investigators learned that Garcia's associates had transported him to Mexico on the night of the shooting. This was not a surprise to the marshals. For more than a century, fugitives have fled to Mexico, believing that they can find a haven in a foreign country. For just as long, deputy marshals have been collaborating with Mexican officers to return fugitives to the United States.

In recent years, the relationship between the United States and Mexico has flourished. Marshals established a field office in Mexico City in 1999 and significantly expanded the network of liaison officers stationed in field offices along the southwest border. Marshals have invited Mexican officials to attend marshal-run training in Georgia and Louisiana. At these training facilities, officers exchange ideas related to the pursuit and apprehension of fugitives. More importantly, the marshals and Mexican law enforcement officers establish personal relationships based on mutual trust and respect.

For many federal, state, and local law enforcement officers, the prospect of pursuing a fugitive in a foreign country can be an intimidating and daunting task. Very often, the process entails dealing with Interpol, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of International Affairs, U.S. law enforcement officers posted at embassies and consulates, and foreign law enforcement officers. The work is complicated and frustrating. Sometimes the work is done in vain because the fugitive cannot be arrested in the foreign country due to subtleties in extradition treaties.

The marshals, however, have extensive experience in dealing with international fugitives. Based on their responsibility for carrying out virtually all international extraditions, marshals are able to streamline and simplify the process for their law enforcement partners.

In the Garcia case, the marshals' expertise in finding fugitives proved invaluable. They knew that the primary and most significant misstep in Garcia's decision to flee to Mexico was his citizenship. Garcia may have fled to Mexico because he thought that Mexico would not extradite U.S. fugitives; he may have selected Mexico because of its geographic proximity to Los Angeles; or he may have fled to an established network of family and associates. But he made a serious miscalculation.

Marshals gathered and assembled birth certificates, photographs, fingerprints, and other documents. The documents had two purposes. First, the documents would confirm Garcia's status as a U.S. citizen. Second, the documents would make Garcia deportable as an undesirable or illegal alien if he were living in Mexico. Marshals collected the same information for Garcia's parents in an effort to forestall any claim of Mexican citizenship.

Within four days of the shooting, on November 19, the task force obtained information that an associate was hiding Garcia in Tijuana.

The Marshals Service and its Mexico City field office requested assistance from Mexico Interpol and the enforcement branch of the Mexican attorney general's office, Agencia de Federal Investigaciones (AFI). A team of investigators went to Tijuana to assist with the investigation and apprehension of Garcia. AFI agents set up surveillance at multiple locations in Tijuana and pursued additional leads. Liaison officers facilitated communications and established a real-time communication link between the Burbank task force and the investigators in Mexico.

Despite information indicating Garcia was in Tijuana, his actual whereabouts remained unknown, so task force members continued to conduct surveillances, interviews, and search warrants in the Los Angeles area. At one point, during a particularly amazing show of force, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office collaborated to execute a series of search and arrest warrants.

Thanksgiving Day
Wednesday, November 26, 2003, was the day before Thanksgiving. Eleven days had passed since the shooting. After a full week of continuously exchanging information, members of the task force in Burbank and the AFI and Marshals Service investigators in Tijuana finalized the information needed to arrest Garcia. Now they needed a plan. Members of the task force were sent to San Diego to develop a plan with liaison officers from the Marshals Service.

On Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 27, 2003, the atmosphere in the Burbank command post was tense as officers waited for news of Garcia's arrest and transfer. Investigators on both sides of the border continued to share and exchange information until finally word arrived that officers had arrested Garcia. Garcia was still in the custody of Mexican authorities, however, so any flaw in the case could have resulted in Garcia's release. For more than two hours, Mexican immigration officials reviewed the case against Garcia and his citizenship documents.

At 2:30 p.m., Mexican immigration officials agreed to return Garcia to the United States. Mexican officers and U.S. marshals escorted Garcia to the United States border. Officers then transferred Garcia to the custody of the Burbank Police Department. After 13 days, Garcia was finally in the custody of Burbank police officers, the extended family of officers Matthew Pavelka, Gregory Campbell, and Randy Lloyd. ■

The authors dedicate this article to the memory of Officer Matthew Pavelka, a second-generation police officer.



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 9, September 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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