Nearly 39,000 arrest warrants remain unserved in Maine

Randy B. Smith
Knox County Jail
Randy B. Smith
Posted Aug. 30, 2014, at 9:36 a.m.

Police say 63-year Randy B. Smith of Owls Head began stalking a Camden woman after his relationship with her deteriorated. They said he would break into her home, once hid in her basement, and in another instance, he threatened to stab her.

Smith was scheduled to answer to those criminal charges in a Rockland court on May 16, but he failed to appear. A judge issued a warrant for Smith’s arrest.

More than three months later, Smith remains at large.

He is not alone. There are 38,708 outstanding warrants statewide dating back to 1991, according to Mary Ann Lynch, the government and media counsel for the administrative offices of the courts. There are more unserved warrants prior to 1991, but the earlier records are not computerized statewide.

In Knox County, where Smith’s case is being heard, 1,010 warrants since 1991 have yet to be served. As with the statewide figure, some suspects have multiple warrants outstanding, so the number of defendants on the lam is far less than the number of warrants.

Most of those warrants for failing to appear in court are for minor offenses such as failing to pay a fine, violation of bail for drinking, or motor vehicle offenses. And most of the warrants have been issued within the past three years.

But some go back much further.

A manual check of outstanding warrants in Knox County showed that the oldest one is from 1972, when a then 19-year-old William C. Tillinghast of Smithfield failed to appear after making bail on a charge of breaking, entering and larceny in the nighttime. Tillinghast was a passenger in a car that was stopped in connection to an investigation of a break-in at the Chuck Wagon Restaurant in Rockland. A cash register was allegedly found in the car.

In 1979, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Clyde Thompson, who failed to appear for a hearing on a theft charge. Thompson was 25 at the time and residing in Monroe, according to court records.

Another unserved warrant was issued for a then 21-year-old Rockland man who failed to appear in court to answer to charges that he broke into Baileywick Leathers in January 1992 and stole more than $1,000 worth of goods.

The defendant, Fernando Armendariz, pleaded not guilty at an initial court appearance. He lived downtown, not far from the store he is accused of breaking into and stealing merchandise. He failed, however, to appear for his next court appearance in August 1992 and has not been caught by law enforcement in the ensuing 22 years.

The store has long since closed.

Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison said deputies look for warrant arrests almost every day they work.

“They have to prioritize and do the most serious calls first then they look for the warrants. Sometimes the wanted person will turn themselves in,” the sheriff said.

Maine State Police Maj. Gary Wright, who heads the department’s major crimes unit, said a number of individuals are arrested on outstanding warrants because of motor vehicle stops or other peripheral contact with law enforcement.

“There are concerted efforts by various agencies at times to round up individuals on the warrant lists that are provided by the courts. We have on several occasions assigned troopers to warrant sweeps or task forces with local and federal agencies in order to get some of these folks in jail. Obviously we prioritize violent offenders or serious crimes over failures to appear or failure to pay fines,” Wright said.

The most outstanding warrants are from York County with 6,621. Cumberland, the state’s most populous county, has 6,298. Penobscot has 4,636; Kennebec has 4,512; Aroostook has 2,797; Androscoggin has 2,726; Hancock has 1,918; Washington has 1,695; Somerset has 1,611; Sagadahoc has 1,536; Oxford has 907; Waldo has 747; Lincoln has 605; Franklin has 597 and Piscataquis has 492.

In the Smith case, he was free on bail on a domestic violence assault charge and six charges of violating court-issued protection orders when he failed to show up for his next court date.

Court records in that case show that the victim said Smith became verbally and physically abusive soon after their relationship began. She said he refused to leave her home, and on occasions when he would leave, he would break back into the home and one time hid in the basement, according to court records.

She said he also threatened to have her stabbed when he thought she was seeing another man, according to the police affidavit filed in court. In 2011, Smith grabbed her by the neck, and the woman filed a police report but later withdrew the complaint because she was afraid of public embarrassment, according to a civil lawsuit that is separate from the criminal charges filed by the state.

Smith was arrested in February 2014 on a charge of domestic violence assault after the woman said he pushed her when she tried to intervene in a verbal argument Smith was having with her 14-year-old son. She told police that he then punched her in the face, and when she called police, he ripped out cords from the wall in an effort to end the call, according to the police affidavit. He fled when he realized she had already contacted police, according to the police affidavit.

He then repeatedly violated a court order to stay away from the woman, according to police.

Dennison said she recognizes the need for enhanced enforcement action to reduce the number of outstanding arrest warrants. She said the department has taken a proactive approach and created a special detail to round up those defendants.

“The mission for this special detail is to apprehend wanted persons with outstanding warrants in order to bring closure to active criminal cases and ensure that fines are paid to the courts,” Dennison said.

This team also conducts checks on people on probation to make sure they are adhering to their court-ordered conditions, she said.

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