Two men with ties to Sonoma County are among the 25 “most wanted” fugitives featured on a new website through which federal law enforcement officials hope to enlist the public's assistance in tracking down wanted suspects from Northern California.
Those profiled on the site, which was unveiled Tuesday, include a one-time Santa Rosa man, Grant Lavell Hudson III, who fled the area in 2003 on the eve of trial on charges he molested a girl over a period of about eight years, federal officials and court records said.
Hudson, 67, already was a convicted sex offender and had been bound over for trial on 13 newer felony counts involving suspected molestation of the girl, a relative, when he was released from jail and later disappeared, court records say.
Also among the most wanted is a Sonoma County gang member suspected in the slaying of a Ukiah man a little more than a year ago, police and federal law enforcement personnel said.
Manuel Rodriguez, 22, may have fled to Mexico in the wake of the Sept. 4 death of the victim, Duane Johnson, 45, Ukiah police said last year.
Johnson had been found unresponsive on Ukiah's North Main Street after what at first was believed to have been a fall, police said.
Investigation later revealed he had been the victim of “foul play,” and Rodriguez was identified as the suspect, though investigators have revealed little else about the case.
Rodriguez and Hudson appear on the website because of violent histories that suggest they could still pose a risk to the public, said Deputy U.S. Marshal Joseph Palmer, a member of the agency's Fugitive Task Force.
They're “people that we think are out there committing other crimes while they're in that fugitive status,” Palmer said Wednesday.
The new project, dubbed a Fugitive Awareness Initiative, is the product of the U.S. Marshals Service, the FBI and the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, which will manage the website.
It was created specifically for the federal Department of Justice's 15-county Northern California District and is unique to the country, Palmer said.
Though there are thousands of fugitives from justice wanted by federal officials, 25 were selected to launch the site based on the need to bring them into custody, the stage of development in their criminal cases and the certainty that each of the individuals knows he or she is being sought and is actively evading capture, Palmer said.
The intention for the site is to provide a way for members of the public to know who is at large in case one of the suspects is hiding in plain sight.
The web page offers a link to submit tips anonymously about the fugitive profiled or about anyone else believed to be wanted, Palmer said.
More than 200 federal, state and local policing agencies that participate in the intelligence group for the Northern California District, which runs along the coast from Del Norte to Monterey County and includes the Greater Bay Area, will be invited to post profiles of other wanted men and women from their own jurisdictions, as well, Palmer said.
“We're pretty excited, and we hope the public gets on board and helps us out,” Palmer said. “Our interaction with the public is probably what solves 95 percent of our cases so we're trying to extend that interaction even more.”
“It is no secret the public continues to be a force-multiplier in providing tips, which can ultimately lead to the arrest of those who flee from justice,” FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson said in a printed news released.