Off the radar: How the justice system lost track of 25K Florida fugitives

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida Department of Corrections has lost track of about 25,000 Florida fugitives.

They’re called absconders, and they include people who have violated the terms of their probation after being found guilty of a crime, all the way up to second-degree murder, and disappeared.

Investigative reporter Karla Ray found out in most cases, no one is even looking for them.

One such absconder was just booked into the Orange County Jail in April, after a report shows Orlando police happened to run into him during a proactive patrol.


An arrest report claims 38-year-old Jeremy Tarver was carrying a backpack with drugs in the middle of an Orlando neighborhood.

The Florida Department of Corrections website shows Tarver absconded from his felony probation on second-degree murder charges nearly a year ago.

9 Investigates asked legal expert and former Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. whether anyone is actively looking for most absconders.

“The short answer to that is no,” Perry said.  “It’s due primarily to a lack of resources.”

The Florida Department of Corrections sent us a spreadsheet listing around 25,000 absconded offenders.  Those convicted criminals were on probation or community control for crimes including second-degree murder, domestic violence stalking and sex acts.

Department officials confirm that no one from their office is physically looking for them, and Perry says in most cases, local law enforcement agencies do not have the time or funding to look for them.

“When inmates, probationers know they won't be held accountable, no one will look for them, then they tend to say, ‘Hey, why not?  They have to find me,’” Perry said.

Locating those absconders doesn’t always take a lot of effort.  We found fugitive Richard Hall, who took a plea deal in a stalking case after investigators say he stood at a Deltona corner and sent threatening texts to his ex-girlfriend, who lived down the street.

“They’ve done absolutely nothing [to find me],” Hall said.  9 Investigates spoke to him by Skype from out of state, where he was able to transfer his probation.

He said he wrote a letter to the judge in his case, detailing where he is and how to contact him.

Despite that, there is now a warrant out for his arrest on suspicion of absconding.

After being considered an absconder for two years, he knows a warrant doesn’t mean much.

“I think the justice system has gaps in it, and I've completely lost faith in the justice system in Florida,” Hall said.

Corrections officials said it does make some attempts to find offenders who fail to report to their probation officers by trying to find new contact information through employers or family friends.  But once it determines the person is an absconder, the responsibility shifts to local law enforcement to enforce warrants.

“If an offender fails to report to the probation office as instructed, a Correctional Probation Officer will attempt to locate the offender by gaining new contact information (such as a phone number, new employer or new address), contacting the employment site to gain information from the employer on any new contact information, conducting a field visit to any known residences, and contacting any/all family members and collateral contacts to ask if they are aware of the offender’s whereabouts,” agency spokeswoman Michelle Glady said in an email.  “Once we have exhausted these options in attempting to locate an offender, the officer then moves forward with the violation report, filing an affidavit and requesting a warrant. Our Absconder Unit will follow up with various law enforcement agencies to provide and share information and cross-analyze databases to generate leads. Physical tracking or investigating of absconders is handled by other law enforcement, like a county sheriff’s office or local police department.”

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray,

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.