Cold Case - Air Force Style

The need for a Cold Case Program was identified after extensive review of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations unresolved cases, which were highlighted to include death, sexual assault, fugitive, deserter, kidnapping and missing persons’ investigations. (AFOSI photo)

The need for a Cold Case Program was identified after extensive review of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations unresolved cases, which were highlighted to include death, sexual assault, fugitive, deserter, kidnapping and missing persons’ investigations. (AFOSI photo)

QUANTICO, Va. -- Currently, there are 61 Air Force deserters who remain fugitives of justice. The oldest deserter on the Air Force books is now 85 years old. He deserted in 1967. The most recent deserter, who is still on the lam, is Master Sergeant Danreddy Jalos. He deserted from an Army installation in the Republic of Korea in 2014. 

The need for a Cold Case program was identified after extensive review of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations unresolved cases, which were highlighted to include death, sexual assault, fugitive, deserter, kidnapping and missing persons' investigations.

The Cold Case Investigative Team is the operational unit of OSI's Cold Case Program. The CCIT validates and then prioritizes those cases based on the likelihood of resolving the investigation and obtaining disposition against subjects.

"Fugitives and Deserter cases were assigned to the CCIT portfolio because of the similarities on how these and cold cases are investigated," said Mr. John J. Fine, OSI Cold Case Team lead. "Both rely extensively on reviewing historical investigations, re-interviewing witnesses and developing new investigative leads." 

How does the desertion investigative process start?

The CCIT works very closely with the Air Force Personnel Center's Desertion Program manager. AFPC provides OSI a list of all Air Force deserters and access to personnel files. 

The CCIT reviews all desertions files and looks for any new leads or any other leads that need to be re-accomplished. This could include FBI fingerprint searches, DNA database checks or coordination with any of our national or international law enforcement agency partners. 

"Additionally, we continually assess the need to re-interview the deserter's family members or associates," Fine said.

Once a lead is identified by the CCIT, it's assigned to one of OSI's 225 field units to be thoroughly investigated. If a deserter is believed to be residing in a foreign country, OSI will contact the OSI agent assigned to Interpol for assistance in locating and returning the deserter to military control.

Since the CCIT became operational in June 2015, 20 deserters have been located.

Desertion is legally defined as a violation of Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It's a crime punishable by death if committed in a time of war. 

When Airmen desert, they're tracked, captured and can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

There is an Air Force team working these cases. When an Airman leaves his or her unit without authority, the case gets reported to the Desertion Information Point at the Air Force Personnel Center. After 180 days, the member is dropped from the rolls of his or her unit and administratively assigned to AFPC while the hunt continues. 

Sandra Kolb and Joe Pizana are responsible for the DIP at AFPC. They maintain a database and paper files on each Air Force deserter and act as a repository and liaison for information related to them. 

"One thing worth mentioning is the deserter's impact on his or her family members," said Pizana, AF AWOL/Deserter Program manager. "Once an Airman becomes a deserter, the Airman and their dependents lose all pay and benefits entitlements to include medical and dental care, and housing."

OSI plays the largest role in the hunt for deserted Air Force members. Its Cold Case Unit is devoted to tracking down these fugitives.

"OSI will continue to search for every fugitive until each member is returned to military control. And, we will find them," said Fine.

In late 2015, AFOSI captured two fugitives - one deserted in 1986 and most recently an individual who deserted in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam conflict.

What happens after a deserter is captured?

Air Force Instruction 36-2911 directs local law enforcement or OSI to deliver the member to military custody at the nearest Air Force Installation. Joseph Ramos, who was captured on Nov. 12, 2015 in Hot Springs, Ark., was delivered to the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base.

How did OSI find Ramos? 

It was the hard work of OSI Detachment 206, Nellis AFB, Nev., and OSI Detachment 327, Little Rock AFB, Ark., that led to the capture of Ramos.

To start the process, the Cold Case Team reviewed Ramos' old personnel records for possible leads. They sent those leads to OSI Detachment 206 where agents arranged an interview with his ex-wife and daughter (age 2 at time of desertion).

On Oct. 31, 2015, the CCIT researched information provided by social media tips and contacted OSI Detachment 327. On Nov. 10, 2015, that OSI detachment coordinated with Arkansas State troopers and the U.S. Marshall's Office.

On Nov. 12, 2015, when agents arrived at Ramos' last known address, he was not present.  Further coordination with the police department led to the officers identifying Ramos as a teller at a local garage where he was arrested. Ramos was transported to the Garland County Detention Center for overnight confinement, until Little Rock AFB Security Forces could transfer him to the base for processing. After being read his rights Ramos admitted that he was guilty and was ready to take responsibility for his mistakes made in 1986. Once apprehended and officially returned to military control, AFPC assigned Ramos to a unit at Little Rock AFB for administrative purposes.

From there, the case was in the hands of the newly assigned commander, who closely coordinated with the Staff Judge Advocate's office. Since sufficient evidence had been gathered and the correct administrative steps were taken, Ramos could be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"The result in Ramos' courts-martial was a Bad Conduct Discharge and 40 days in prison (which were served while in pretrial confinement between the date he was captured and the date his sentence was handed down)," said Capt. Lee Powers, Airman Ramos' case prosecutor.

During his disappearance, Ramos was living under the false name Richard Joseph Delerio after his desertion from the Air Force. 

It's difficult to capture a deserter. Some are openly living and working in foreign countries, just outside the reach of U.S. military control. Others have disappeared without a trace. Sometimes there's very little information about their whereabouts because the commanders, peers, family members and even the installations from which they deserted, are long gone. Some Airmen deserted after obtaining Top Secret Clearance and access to Classified Information.

The reasons for desertion vary widely. Sometimes the deserter is facing other criminal charges and flees in advance of his or her trial in fear of what sentence might be handed down. There is evidence that some deserters were suffering from mental illnesses, or left simply because they saw no legal way to tend to the needs of their families while remaining in the Air Force (i.e. with a humanitarian assignment, etc.). 

If you have information about an Air Force fugitive, check OSI "Air Force Fugitives" at:  http://www.osi.af.mil/library/fugitives/  or call (877) 246-1453. You may remain anonymous.

You may also send information using the "Crime Busters" link that appears on the right side of the OSI public webpage at www.osi.af.mil  or contact OSI through the its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/airforceosi.