Hunting Fugitives for the Harris County DA

During the Fall 2012 semester, SHSU Intern Ryan McClellan helped the Harris County District Attorney’s Office track down fugitives charged with felonies, including murder, rape and other violent crimes.

McClellan, a senior at the College of Criminal Justice, summarized offense reports and evidence into short reports that were used by prosecutors and investigators to determine if arrests were feasible in each case.

“They have caused a lot of hurt and pain,” said McClellan, referring to the fugitives he pursued. “These people have been charged with rape and murder, and they have to come off the streets.”

Image of a fugitive surrendering.McClellan, who graduates in December, did his internship at the Harris County District Attorney’s Fugitive Apprehension Unit, which hunts down murderers and sexual predators every day. McClellan’s duties included scouring case files looking for details that may help to find these wanted criminals with open arrest warrants.

“It was the best experience of my life,” said McClellan. “I was the only undergraduate intern in the District Attorney’s Office. I was meeting people, like judges and district attorneys. You never know when you might need them. This has opened up a whole new networking stream and experience.”

While Sam Houston State University provided concepts and theories, McClellan got to experience the process firsthand in his job. He learned how to read reports, review evidence and develop strategies to capture offenders. He was even able to witness a major criminal trial.

“His internship was a little different from others in the office,” said Kim Bryant, head of the Extradition Unit at the DA’s office. “We have more legal interns with prosecutors going to trial. He worked more on the law enforcement aspect. He reviewed cases and summarized it into a quick report. We need to do this for the process of vetting our suspects. He did great. He did really well.”

Picture of eyeglasses on a New York map, which magnifies a section of the map.McClellan would be given a case file – often contained in large boxes with pictures, videos, fingerprints and other evidence -- to glean information that could lead to the arrest of the suspect. Many of the cases involved undocumented Hispanics, who fled back to their home countries. He would provide a briefing to investigators with information about friends, family, jobs and movements of the suspect.

“It included everything from love letters to pictures they may have sent their family,” said McClellan. “You hunt down where they might be, where that have been spotted. It’s a cat and mouse game. It has a lot to do with luck and good police work.”

“These people know they are wanted and many are not surprised when they are arrested,” he added. “They live their life, but every time they see a cop, they think they are coming for them.”

As part of his internship, McClellan also got to spend time in court at the Jessica Tata trial, a day care owner convicted of murder in the death of one of four children who died in a house fire after she left them alone. The experience inspired McClellan to pursue law school so he can play a role in the broader criminal justice system.

Picture of a gavel on law books in court.“I came into criminal justice because I wanted to help the community,” McClellan said. “I was witnessing how it is a class system, and indigent people are not represented well. The law is more fascinated with criminal cases. I saw that there is a need during the whole time I was there.”

McClellan plans to attend law school after his graduation in December. He recommends the internship program at the College of Criminal Justice to every student.

“I feel like the internship program as a whole is important and particularly to gain employment,” said McClellan. “The people I met can help me get a job. Most of the people I worked with were there 10-15 years. It was invaluable for networking. You have to have something to put on your resume and this holds a lot of weight.”

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