Posted on June 22, 2006

‘Most wanted’ lists filled with hard-to-track Latinos

Thomasi McDonald and Mandy Locke, New Observer, June 22, 2006

For nearly five days, Johnston County sheriff’s deputies have looked for Rigo Coyt Partida, a native of Mexico who neighbors said blasted his roommate in the chest with a shotgun.

It’s like hunting in the dark, deputies say.

Partida, 45, a bricklayer, told his boss that his name was “Felipe Corona.” Players on his soccer team and his Selma neighbors knew him by other names. He took off in a truck not registered to him, and federal immigration agents have turned up nothing, detectives said.

“We have no way to track down people like this,” Johnston Sheriff’s Lt. Fred Dees said. “They’re anonymous — invisible, really.”

Law enforcement agencies often search in vain for suspects who may not be in the country legally. As a result, Latinos — the bulk of the 300,000 illegal immigrants in the state — dominate the lists of “most wanted” crime suspects in Wake and Johnston counties.

In Wake, Hispanics account for more than 70 percent of the suspects on the most wanted lists for the Sheriff’s Office and Raleigh police. In Johnston, nearly all of the homicides in which no one has been arrested in recent years involve Hispanic suspects.

By contrast, Hispanics make up less than 8 percent of the population in these counties and accounted for about 12 percent of people arrested in Wake in 2005.

Fears of profiling

These most wanted lists are the face of violent crime in the community — broadcast on Internet sites and displayed on posters. They allow law enforcement to spread the word and solicit tips.

Some advocates worry that the over-representation of Hispanics on these lists is a form of racial profiling, but law enforcers say the lists simply reflect the most elusive fugitives. Because foreign-born citizens often lack verifiable documentation and can easily slip back into their home countries, they tend to be the hardest to catch.

The tactics typically used to catch suspects often fall short when the target wasn’t born in this country or even this state, SBI Director Robin Pendergraft said.

“We look at utility records, we talk with neighbors, we visit the schools your children may attend,” Pendergraft said. “Some people are harder to track, and that’s being reflected in most wanted.”

Regardless of the reasons for Hispanics dominating these lists, the effect can be dangerous, said Marisol Jimenez-McGee, a social worker and advocate with El Pueblo, a Latino advocacy group in Raleigh.

Jimenez-McGee pointed to incidents in Mount Olive, where three police officers were accused of robbing Hispanic drivers during traffic stops in 2004. That same year, the state appeals court determined that a trooper with the state Highway Patrol engaged in ethnic profiling when he targeted Hispanic motorists for traffic stops.


Even if law officers can pinpoint a suspect living outside the United States, bringing him to justice is often tricky, officials say.

“If they flee to another country, we can’t rely on law enforcement the way we rely on law enforcement agencies here,” Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said.

In the case of Mexico, even if authorities figure out an address for a suspect, government officials refuse to extradite citizens wanted for crimes that could carry the death penalty, said Tex Lindsey, U.S. Marshal Fugitive Task Force commander for Eastern North Carolina.

Johnston sheriff’s deputies hope it doesn’t come to that with Partida. Even if he doesn’t turn up soon, being wanted will make him surface.

“As long as there is a living breath in him, somebody with a badge will be looking for him,” Johnston Sheriff’s Capt. Buck Pipkin said. “He’ll always be wanted, and he’ll always be looking over his shoulder.”

# # #

New York’s most wanted: