January 7, 1996 in Nation/World

Spokane Scofflaws Thumbing Noses At Warrants Kootenai County Cops Can’t Cross Over State Line To Make Misdemeanor Arrests

By The Spokesman-Review
 

James A. Feezell knows he is wanted by Kootenai County authorities.

But the 38-year-old Spokane man doesn’t care.

“What are they going to do, come over and nab me?” he scoffed from his home across the state line. “Nah, I don’t think so.”

He’s right.

Spokane residents wanted for misdemeanor crimes in Idaho are virtually untouchable on their own turf. And some of them are using their immunity to skip out on jail time, community service and money they owe to Kootenai County.

In the past five years, the number of warrants issued for crimes committed in Kootenai County has grown by 65 percent.

The majority of warrants were issued against local residents. However, Spokane residents are the single largest group of outsiders wanted by Kootenai County authorities.

One out of every five outstanding arrest warrants in Kootenai County is for someone with a Spokane address, said Capt. Ben Wolfinger. Spokane’s wanted residents owe more than $100,000 in fines and court costs to Kootenai County.

“They come over here, they’ve broken the law, they’ve used our resources and then they don’t pay their debt to society,” Wolfinger said.

“Everybody is welcome to come here and enjoy themselves and play but everyone needs to be accountable.”

An arrest warrant can be issued for a variety of offenses.

Police ask a judge for one after gathering enough evidence to charge a suspect with a crime such as burglary or lewd conduct. People who don’t show up for a court hearing or don’t pay their fines are also likely to have an arrest warrant filed against them.

Felony warrants are given for serious crimes, while misdemeanor warrants are for lesser offenses.

The number of warrants for both types of crimes issued in Kootenai County has been steadily increasing, said Deputy Robert Williams, head of the county warrants section.

During 1991, 2,269 warrants were doled out. By 1995, that number had jumped to 3,753.

“I think this is a symptom of our growth,” Wolfinger said. “Not everybody that moves to North Idaho is a law-abiding citizen.”

There are currently more than 4,000 warrants in Kootenai County - some of them date back more than five years. About 94 percent of the warrants are for misdemeanors.

At the end of December, almost 2,000 of the outstanding warrants were for people who had failed to pay fines. Urinating in public and drunken driving were among their crimes.

The county would be $676,863 richer if all the wanted people paid their dues, said Chris Harding, county director of collections. Among other things, that money would compensate crime victims, pay for court operations and fund the police academy, she said.

Kootenai County has only two officers dedicated solely to hunting wanted people.

Deputy Williams spends much of his time poring through court records, telephone books and city directories trying to find his quarry. Then he starts knocking on doors.

Sometimes he goes to 20 homes before he finds the person he’s looking for. Other days, the first four doors he knocks on turn up four arrests.

But Williams cannot arrest people on Kootenai County warrants if they are outside the county or in another state.

Serious criminals have their names put in a nationwide computer system accessible by all law enforcement agencies. They can then be arrested - by police with jurisdiction where the criminals are located - and returned to Idaho.

But those with misdemeanor warrants living outside the state cannot be extradited to Idaho, Williams said. So if they’re going to get caught, they’ve got to be caught in Idaho.

Of the 864 Kootenai County warrants issued for Spokane residents, 96 percent are for misdemeanor crimes.

Take the case of James Feezell. In July 1989, he came to Coeur d’Alene and spent two days fishing in Windy Bay without a license. Both days, a state Department of Fish and Game officer cited him.

Five and a half years later, Feezell still hasn’t finished paying the $157 in fines he owes from the case. Now he has a $300 bench warrant for his arrest.

“I purposely didn’t pay,” he said, explaining that he was angry after being ordered to spend five days in jail for failing to appear in court on one of the tickets. “They got their pound of flesh.”

Feezell figures he won’t get caught as long as he stays out of Idaho and “I have no business in Idaho,” he said.

But Williams has a few words for Feezell and other Spokane residents who think they’re home free.

“If he wants to be that kind of person and look over his shoulder that’s fine, but my philosophy is ‘what goes around comes around,”’ Williams said. “One day, he will be over here, he’ll get lax and maybe he’ll get popped.”

During 1995, authorities eliminated more than 2,400 of Kootenai County’s total warrants by arresting people.

And many of them were Spokane residents, Williams said.

“Actually, a lot of them do get caught because they continue to come into Coeur d’Alene,” Harding said.

“They recreate over here, they come over to drink, they come to see their girlfriends,” Williams said. “All we have to do is have them come back into Idaho.”

This weighs on the mind of Michael J. Brasch, 26, of Spokane, who found out Friday he was a wanted man in Kootenai County.

In June 1994, he was arrested, sentenced to 16 hours in a work program and given a $351 fine for boating under the influence of alcohol in Coeur d’Alene.

He said he purposely didn’t pay up or do his time because he didn’t think he was guilty.

“But I didn’t know I had a warrant,” he said Friday.

Brasch travels through Idaho fairly often and doesn’t like the idea of going to jail again. He said he plans to call the courthouse and pay the fine.

That’s the best thing for a wanted person who merely owes money, said Judge Eugene Marano.

“In 99 percent of the cases, we’ll just take our money and quash the warrant,” he said. “All we want is to be paid.”

Marano encouraged even those with more serious penalties to contact the court and try to work out an arrangement - whether they’re from Spokane or Kootenai counties.

He said judges will be more understanding when people turn themselves in rather than get snagged by a police officer.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Outstanding warrants

MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition

Cut in Spokane edition

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