Man honored as hero

Fri, 05/23/2008 - 3:13pm
By: John Munford

Thompson hunts down violent criminals with special unit

A Peachtree City man was honored recently with the Georgia Heroism Award presented by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Josh Thompson, 34, a parole officer, hunts down violent criminals running from the law, serving on the U.S. Marshals Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force.

Thompson and his partner were involved in arresting 227 fugitives last year. Among them were people wanted for murder, rape and other violent offenses.

Thompson calls them “the worst of the worst.”

Danger lurks behind every door, such as one home agents entered last year looking for six people from a gang that committed violent robberies, Thompson said. When his unit burst in, no one was there, but there were six AK-47 automatic machine guns laying there.

“What if the people had been there?” Thompson said. “Would they have given up or would they try to shoot it out?

When they’re caught, fugitives act differently, Thompson said. Some give up immediately and are “relieved” that the ordeal is over. Others, however, will fight to their last breath, much like a 2006 case involving an escapee from the Los Angeles County jail, Thompson said.

The fugitive was holed up in a Forest Park hotel, and he physically fought with six officers until the moment they got him cuffed.

Afterward he told them that he has always felt as long as he had an arm free or a leg free, he felt he “had a chance” to escape, Thompson said.

Another recent fugitive found out through his mother that he was wanted, and he used the number Thompson gave the mom to call and plead innocence to the charge. But Thompson told him he didn’t have anything to do with the investigation ... he was just looking to bring the suspect in.

Ultimately the suspect called again to arrange his own surrender, Thompson said.

Another drastic example of the lengths fugitives take when they’re caught was a young man wanted for beating up and robbing a former Atlanta police officer at his Fayetteville home, Thompson said. He was spotted near his sister’s house by task force agents but he slipped into a wooded area and pulled out a gun.

But instead of pointing it at the fugitive agents, he put the gun in his own mouth and threatened suicide, Thompson said.

Fortunately the suspect was talked out of it and safely taken into custody, Thompson said.

Finding fugitives is a matter of tracking down their family, friends and associates for leads, Thompson said. If they’ve lived in the same area all their life, it’s much easier to get reliable information on their whereabouts, Thompson said.

“Really it’s about finding a ‘footprint’ of the person,” Thompson said, saying he really loves the job.

The task force arrested 514 offenders last year including 60 people wanted for murder, 41 wanted for sex crimes and 136 for assault and robbery.

Thompson’s work has earned the admiration of his colleagues, too.

“Daily, Josh courageously puts his life on the line to apprehend those persons who consistently pose the greatest threat to our community,” said Parole Board Director Beth Oxford.

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