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Collaborative partnerships for a common goal

By TBCJ Chairman Christina Melton Crain

Mike Earp, a direct descendant of the famous lawman Wyatt Earp, was recognized by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice (Board) this past November.

portrait of Christina Melton Crain
Christina Melton Crain
TBCJ Chairman
Mr. Earp’s recognition was in appreciation for his work as the Deputy Director of the Investigative Services Division for the U.S. Marshals Service in Washington, D.C. In this capacity, and in former positions with the Marshals Service, Mr. Earp has been instrumental in the development of the strong, long-term partnership that exists between the U.S. Marshals Service and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

This partnership began back in the early 90s, when the U.S. Marshals Service was working with the FBI, the Texas Rangers and several local law enforcement agencies investigating murders connected with Kenneth Allen McDuff, a former Texas death row offender. With McDuff’s prior incarceration record and status as a TDCJ parolee, the Marshals Service turned to the TDCJ Office of Inspector General (OIG) for assistance in the McDuff investigation. Utilizing their combined resources, this team of federal, state and local agencies was able to solve eight (8) murders, which led to -McDuff’s conviction of capital murder in two (2) cases –- Colleen Reed of Austin and Melissa Northrop of Waco – and his placement on death row (executed 1998).

Among those that assisted the McDuff investigation was a Houston-based U.S. Marshals national task force group known as Operation Trident, which consisted of U.S. Marshals and local law enforcement agencies. Seeing the value of such an alliance, upon the closure of the McDuff case, Mr. Earp was instrumental in the forming of a regional/U.S. Marshals task force in Houston, known as the Gulf Coast Violent Offender Task Force. Created in conjunction with the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, this task force tracks and apprehends violent offenders and parole absconders. With a full-time OIG investigator assigned to the task force, the Agency has benefited from shared resources and established connections with various law enforcement communities. This partnership has resulted in the apprehension of several escapees and high-profile absconders, both in Texas and across the nation.

With the growth of organized crime and gangs both within prison and on the streets, federal and state law enforcement have found these collaborative task forces to be a very effective tool in identifying and battling associated activities. As such, additional task force offices have been established in several Texas metropolitan areas over the past 15 years. These task forces, connected directly to the FBI or to the Marshals Service, have an OIG investigator assigned full-time to assist in investigations. They have been instrumental in the arrest of hundreds of parole violators, and have worked jointly to solve murder cases, combat prison gangs and drug trafficking that affect prison operations, and investigate public corruption cases that concern TDCJ.

Additional advantages that stem from these partnerships have been seen during times of crisis or need. For instance, when Hurricane Rita hit Texas in 2005, the U.S. Marshals Service, under the oversight of Mr. Earp, provided the TDCJ assistance by authorizing three (3) Boeing 737 aircrafts from the U.S. Marshals “ConAir” Operations to airlift offenders and parolees out of the Beaumont area to safety just hours before the storm hit.

With the escape of the Texas Seven, it was the Marshals Service that helped finally track and capture the fugitives in Colorado. Six (6) weeks prior to the apprehension, with the national and international attention received, the Agency was inundated with well over 10,000 leads on the escapees, each requiring tracking and investigation. To assist, the FBI provided computer equipment and support services to establish a large command post - the same type of FBI post set up at Ground Zero in New York City after 9/11. The Texas Seven Command Post was operated utilizing 30 individuals per shift, representing the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, Texas Rangers and TDCJ, as well as other state and local agencies.

The U.S. Marshals Service, the FBI and other partnering entities also benefit from these collaborative partnerships through assistance from TDCJ. For instance, with Hurricane Rita, TDCJ and OIG staff worked hand-in-hand with federal, state and local authorities to help maintain security and the safety of evacuees. In addition, the OIG made accessible to the law enforcement community information on any individual incarcerated or on parole in Texas and, through its active partnership, Homeland Security was provided information obtained through the monitoring of any radicalization activity of TDCJ offenders.

Collaborative partnerships, such as the ones developed with Mr. Earp and the U.S. Marshals Service, allow federal, state and local law enforcement groups to work together towards a common goal without duplicating efforts or expending costly resources. The partnerships are efficient and effective tools in combating the criminal element and ensuring public safety in Texas and throughout the nation.

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