NASSAU, Bahamas — A resourceful teenage fugitive who police have called the “Barefoot Bandit” was being questioned inside a Bahamian jail Monday as he spent his first full day behind bars after an audacious two-year run that gave him near folk hero status.
Colton Harris-Moore was being held inside the two-story Central Detective Unit with access to phone calls and visitors from the U.S. Embassy as well as interrogators. Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade said he was being interviewed by investigators but declined to say whether the 19-year-old had made any kind of statement to authorities or what they needed to build any case against him.
Greenslade was complimentary of Harris-Moore despite the weeklong manhunt that ended with police shooting out the outboard engine on a motorboat off Eleuthera island.
“He’s very eloquent, obviously a very intelligent young man,” Greenslade said.
Harris-Moore was expected to make his first court appearance Tuesday on suspicion of illegal weapons possession as well as a “litany” of other charges stemming from the week he spent in the Bahamas trying to evade police.
Police captured American teenager before dawn Sunday following a high-speed boat chase in off Eleuthera, one of two sparsely populated tourist islands where he allegedly committed a string of burglaries since crash-landing a plane in the Bahamas a week earlier.
It was only the latest caper for the teen from rural Camano Island, Washington, who is suspected of stealing cars, boats and at least five airplanes during a run from the law that began with his 2008 escape from a halfway house.
Greenslade said earlier that charges filed in the Bahamas will take priority over those in the U.S., but also noted the two countries have excellent relations and an extradition could happen more quickly than people might expect. He declined to comment further on how the case will be handled.
Greenslade also provided more details of the capture off Harbour Island, a small tourist destination that is part of northern Eleuthera.
He said Harris-Moore had a weapon as he tried to escape on a stolen speedboat one last time, but he did not fire at police officers. Islanders reported seeing the fugitive in the area and some civilians even participated in the chase that ended with police shooting out the engine on the fugitive’s boat.
From the moment of his capture, Greenslade said Harris-Moore has been calm and cooperative.
“He gave us no trouble at all at the moment he was arrested,” Greenslade said.
John Henry Browne, a lawyer asked by Harris-Moore’s mother to represent her son, said the theft and burglary charges in the Bahamas are relatively minor but that alleged possession of a gun at the time of his capture could complicate the case. He told CBS’ “Early Show” that the 19-year-old fugitive should waive any challenge to extradition and try to return to Seattle as soon as possible.
If the charges are consolidated in federal court Harris-Moore is looking at potentially four to 12 years in prison, he said.
“These are all property cases,” said Browne, who hoped to speak with Harris-Moore by phone Monday. “There’s never been any danger to any human being other than Colton himself.”
Browne said he hoped to speak later Monday with the suspect, who as an adult will decide himself who represents him.
Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, said that her office would seek to extradite Harris-Moore to Washington state and coordinate with local jurisdictions about how his case would proceed.
“There are obviously many jurisdictions that would like to prosecute him,” she said.
His mother, Pamela Kohler, issued a statement expressing relief that the manhunt for her son had ended.
“I am very relieved that Colt is now safe and that no one was hurt during his capture,” Kohler said. “I have not yet been able to speak to him. It has been over two-and-a-half years since I have seen him, and I miss him terribly.”
Police dubbed Harris-Moore the “Barefoot Bandit” because he allegedly committed some of his crimes without shoes. His run converted him into a sort of folk hero, with some of the nearly 80,000 followers on his Facebook posting disappointed messages Monday.
Although implicated in dozens of crimes, Harris-Moore has been formally charged with just one: the 2009 theft of a turbo Cessna from a Bonners Ferry airport. The stolen plane was found crashed in Western Washington, where authorities say it ran out of fuel.