Chad Earl Williams

Chad Earl Williams

provided photo

In mid-April, the U.S. Marshals Service found one of Missoula’s most wanted in Arizona, where he was living in a motor home since going on the run last summer.

Chad Earl Williams is being held in the Yavapai County jail while the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office works through the paperwork involved in taking him back across the country to face his charges.

Since Williams cut off a GPS monitor and disappeared in August, there’s been a $1 million arrest warrant out for him.

Originally convicted in 1996 of attempted deliberate homicide for shooting a Missoula man in the head during a robbery, Williams had been in and out of custody last year for various violations of his release on probation.

In June, he was involved in a seven-hour standoff in Bozeman because of an outstanding arrest warrant. Williams eventually was taken into custody, brought back to Missoula and posted a new bail. Weeks later, he cut off his monitoring bracelet and fled days before he was set to be sentenced for probation violations, including methamphetamine use and possession of weapons.

Transporting a fugitive across the country is quite a process, one that’s even more complicated when the inmate in question is a high-risk, violent offender like Williams.

For most of the fugitives arrested on warrants in other states, Missoula takes advantage of its membership in a multi-state cooperative program commonly called the Northwest Shuttle to have them brought back to town, said sheriff’s office senior criminal justice clerk Becky DeVos, who handles the agencies’ extradition warrants.

Northwest Shuttle, which uses vans, was started in Washington in the late 1970s to save money by coordinating trips involving inmates from opposite sides of the state. Over the years, the agreement has expanded to cover most states in the western United States. The goal is to be able to extradite more fugitives and save money through collaboration.

No formal rules govern law enforcement agencies' participation in the shuttle service, only an agreement that they reciprocate by helping to move or house inmates when needed. Montana’s leg of the shuttle system is operated by the Department of Corrections, which meets other states’ systems each week at designated hubs, including Wallace, Idaho, and Rapid City, South Dakota, to exchange inmates.

“I think it’s a great system,” DeVos said.

But Northwest Shuttle doesn’t transport juveniles or inmates with serious charges, and each inmate has to get a health screening and be given a risk and safety classification before being approved.

“There are other criteria. They have to be medically fit, they have to be able to board the transport van and get off without assistance, so there’s no wheelchairs, there’s no pregnant women. That disqualifies them,” DeVos said.

Because Williams won’t qualify for the shuttle system due to his charges, DeVos said an alternate arrangement has to be made, which means either contracting a private company or sending deputies down in a patrol car to Arizona to get him themselves.

When Missoula’s own officers leave the state to get someone, DeVos helps coordinate with local jails along the route to make sure that on a multi-day trip, deputies have a place to drop an inmate off for a night.

"Most jails are really helpful in making sure they have an opening to hold an inmate for a night," DeVos said.

DeVos is in the process of gathering bids from private transport companies and pulling together an estimate of what it would cost deputies to drive or fly down to get Williams.

“Those must be approved by the governor’s office because the state is providing reimbursement for the money the county will (pay) up front for it,” she said.

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