A sleepy-eyed woman opened the sliding glass door to her Bloomington apartment when Operation FALCON came calling.
She wasn't the girlfriend of the guy they were after, she said. But she knew where he lived. Less than a half-hour later, Deputy U.S. Marshal Nate Matthews roused the man "with violent tendencies" from his bed and into a waiting squad car. A two-year manhunt was over.
"Not surprisingly, he said he was getting ready to turn himself in," Matthews said, smiling.
"Sure he was," said Justin Cline, another deputy marshal.
For the fourth year here, Operation FALCON (Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally), a multi-agency effort led by the U.S. Marshals Service, has swooped down on fugitives from the law in a one-week dragnet. The 2009 effort nabbed 258 fugitives in Minnesota during the week of June 22, officials announced Thursday.
Fugitives included 18 sex offenders and at least nine known gang members. All of the fugitives were considered violent, officials said.
The number of arrests this year during the one-week sweep from Duluth to Rochester doubled the number of arrests last year, said Michael McGinn, U.S. marshal for the state of Minnesota. It was five times the number from the first year of the program here.
Nationally, Operation FALCON resulted in the arrest of more than 35,000 fugitives, including more than 22,300 sex offenders and 900 gang members. U.S. Marshals officials said 487 homicide warrants were cleared by the operation. A warrant is cleared either when a fugitive is arrested or a case is dismissed.
"We built upon the previous success of Operation FALCON," said McGinn, flanked during a Thursday news conference by some of the big shots of local, state and federal law enforcement in Minnesota. "These were folks who would be predators in our communities over the summer."
A total of 16 arrest teams, numbering from six to 16 officers per team, fanned out across the state, said Rich Pederson, supervisory deputy U.S. marshal and organizer of the effort. Besides the Twin Cities area, teams worked in Rochester and Olmsted County, Dakota County, Duluth and St. Louis County, Beltrami County, Mahnomen and Cass Lake. In all, Pederson said, 40 fugitives were arrested in northern Minnesota, 20 in the south -- helping make the 2009 arrest total a state record.
Of the 500 warrants Minnesota fugitive-hunters took to the streets, they cleared 299 -- including the 258 arrests. No one was hurt in the arrests, he said.
St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington praised the program, which resulted in 55 arrests in St. Paul.
"I'm hopeful that this sets us up for a very good and a very peaceful summer," he said.
Officials said Thursday that they have officers do this kind of work -- tracking down warrants, checking fugitive addresses -- every day of the year. But at a time of diminished resources, being able to team up with dozens of other agencies for a focused, weeklong operation pays huge dividends. Approximately 175 federal, state and local officers participated.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, whose department has a 10-person apprehension unit, said the intensity of the operation "is like nothing you've ever seen." He added that officers, who are temporarily deputized as U.S. marshals, can check multiple addresses for multiple offenders at the same time.
"They have to be someplace. They have to eat. They have to sleep," he said. "Most of them have girlfriends."
For one of this year's sweeps, Matthews, Cline and others, including Minneapolis police officers and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, gathered at a convenience store off Washington Avenue N. in Minneapolis in the pre-dawn darkness.
Strapping on bullet-resistant vests and sipping from cans of energy drinks, they pored over details of each of the fugitives they were seeking. Over the next few hours, they would stop at addresses in Minneapolis, Richfield, Bloomington and Shakopee. Many of the addresses were old and the men they sought had moved away weeks or months before.
At one south Minneapolis house, agents surrounded the building as a dog inside barked. Finally, a sleepy white middle-aged man answered the door. Wrong house.
"That's why they call it fishing," Cline said, "and they don't call it catching."
The fugitive they were tracking in Bloomington is a reputed Bloods gang member with seven aliases and a Department of Corrections warrant for crack cocaine possession.
Using a ruse they would not explain, the team got the man to answer the door. He appeared in a red T-shirt and blue-jean shorts. Officers identified themselves, handcuffed him and led him out of the apartment without struggle.
Matthews helped the man into the squad car.
As the car drove the man off to the Hennepin County jail, the team gathered, again, at a nearby convenience store to go over another folder with names and addresses and rap sheets.
Next year, they'll do it all over again.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428