Police offer one-way flight to jail Extradition plane returns fugitives to Md. at low cost

July 09, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Welcome aboard the Maryland State Police extradition plane -- a one-way ride, for some fugitives, directly to jail.

Around Maryland, when people jump bail, escape work-release programs or elude the criminal justice system and flee to a far-away state, the Beechcraft C-90 King Air often retrieves them.

The plane, which can hold two pilots and five passengers, serves the state on virtually every business day. It's in constant demand.

Sometimes it is used to fly police dogs, bomb-squad units and transplant organs, but usually, the aircraft stored at Martin State Airport in Baltimore County is busy hauling criminals.

Last week, the itinerary included a trip to Duluth, Minn., leaving Maryland on Tuesday and returning the next day with two prisoners wanted in Harford County. Friday, two pilots were scheduled to pick up a felon in Hickory, N.C., for the Baltimore County Police Department.

Local officials like the service because the cost is low. The Baltimore County state's attorney's office pays about $100 or $200 a trip -- a substantial savings compared with commercial planes, which would charge hundreds of dollars for similar pickups.

The King Air can land at smaller airports, which puts police "closer to the prisoner, and makes it safer for the population," especially if the prisoner is violent, said 1st Sgt. Mark B. Gabriele, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police aviation division. The plane operates on a budget of $245,000 for the 1997 fiscal year.

The plane is booked solid until the middle of this month, then goes for regularly scheduled maintenance. That means some who flee Maryland this month might not be brought back.

Baltimore County has an extradition budget of $13,000 a year, so prosecutors must decide which fugitives to fetch by commercial airlines when the plane is unavailable.

In a recent case, after learning the King Air was unavailable, county prosecutors made this decision: no state plane, no extradition.

Paul Greer Huhn Jr. of Pasadena was on the run from county authorities. A convicted robber and parole violator who had walked away from a drug-treatment program, he was caught in a stolen car by Las Vegas police in May.

Baltimore County prosecutors, unaware of the stolen car, had to make a quick decision operating only on the knowledge that he had left the drug program. They decided not to extradite Huhn, and Las Vegas police set him free.

Prosecutors use several factors to make extradition decisions: whether, for example, they will be able to obtain significant jail time once the prisoner is returned and the seriousness of the crime, county Deputy State's Attorney Sue A. Schenning said.

"We're not going to bring somebody back if we're just going to get 30 or 60 days -- it's just a matter of prioritizing," she said.

"If we had all of the information, perhaps the decision would have been different" in Huhn's case, she added, noting that the "vast majority" of fugitives are picked up.

Pub Date: 7/09/96

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