Arkansas fugitive charged with raping daughter crossed Manitoba border with 4 other children in tow
Canada border guards waved family through Emerson crossing without asking about children in backseat
A fugitive facing rape charges against his teenage daughter in Arkansas managed to cross Manitoba's border with little scrutiny, travelling with four of his other children — who police believe were also at risk of being harmed.
The man was set to stand trial in Polk County in Arkansas on four counts of rape in May. He disappeared with his wife and their four youngest children, just days before he was set to face a jury. He had been ordered to stay away from those children.
CBC News is not identifying the man to protect the identity of the teen he is accused of sexually assaulting and the other children.
Documents attached to the Polk County warrant for his arrest detail how Canada Border Services agents waved the family across the border at Emerson, Man., on May 15, checking only the ID of the adult couple, without checking to see if they had children along with them.
Agents didn't check for children
The family was driving a large SUV and towing a utility trailer when they approached the Canadian border just after 11 p.m.
"The vehicle in which they crossed the border had tinted windows," the affidavit from an investigator dated June 10, reads. "[Canada Border Services Agency] border officers did not confirm whether there were minors travelling with [them]; they did not obtain any identification from minors."
A spokesperson for the border services agency would not comment on the case, but said officers make decisions based on the information they have at the time of processing travellers.
"The CBSA uses proven indicators such as advance information, innovative technology, and training to intercept and apprehend persons who pose a potential threat to Canadians," wrote spokesperson Luke Reimer.
Search would have flagged charges: sheriff
The sheriff for Polk County said the couple was already in Canada by the time authorities in Arkansas realized they were missing, when the man did not show up for his May 23 court date. That's when the warrants for their arrest were issued.
"They drove straight from here to Canada before we realized," Sheriff Scott Sawyer said. "So as far as Canadian authorities were concerned, they were just visiting Americans."
However, Sawyer said a check of the man's identity would have shown he had been arrested and charged with rape four months before.
Neither parent had any connection with Manitoba or Canada, the warrant documents state.
"I think they thought they could get up there and disappear in the Canadian wilderness," Sawyer said.
Family tracked to Portage la Prairie
A spokesperson for the RCMP says the search for the man eventually ended when officers tracked the family down in Portage la Prairie, Man. — about 135 kilometres northwest of Emerson — and took them into custody on July 10.
"I believe they were in their vehicle, out picking up scrap metal when they were apprehended by Canadian authorities," Sawyer said.
"They were staying in a trailer somewhere up there," he said.
The children were taken into the care of Manitoba Child and Family Services, and then transferred to officials in the U.S., Sawyer said.
On Monday, the parents will face a hearing regarding extradition to the United States.
Mother thought rape was caused by 'evil spirit'
Arkansas police first became aware of the allegations against the father after getting a tip from a child abuse hotline, the Manitoba court documents show.
There were allegedly multiple incidents of sexual contact between the man and his daughter from 2014 to 2017 — when she was between the ages of 13 and 16.
The man's wife said she knew he was assaulting the daughter, but felt "there was an evil spirit in the home due to the death of a relative which contributed to [his] misconduct," the documents read.
"[She] has demonstrated no ability to deter [the man's] criminal conduct," the document reads. "She failed to take steps necessary to end the conduct and protect her daughter."
The man was arrested in January 2019 and charged with four counts of rape. He was released on a bond, with a jury trial set for May 23 under the condition that he would have no contact with any of his children, Sawyer said.
He was facing a sentence of 10 years to life in prison.
On May 13, the prosecutor in the case became aware that the man was liquidating funds, and had stopped answering his defence attorney's calls.
"We worked with the U.S. Marshals Service and developed information fairly quickly that he crossed the border into Canada with his wife and four children," Sawyer said.
On May 21, $800 US was transferred to an address in Manitoba. That transfer is what eventually led police to Portage la Prairie.
"Bringing [them] back to face justice was very important to us," Sawyer said.
"But my biggest concern was they left with four children and I felt like those children were in danger."
Agents have 'seconds' to decide on border crossings
It's not uncommon for cases like this to happen, according to an expert on border issues.
"Those officers only have a few seconds, maybe a minute to assess the travellers, make a very quick determination if they're admissible or not," said Kelly Sundberg, a former Canada Border Service Agency immigration enforcement officer.
"Especially when we get into the busy tourist season at land borders, where they're clearing vehicles fairly quickly … there's a lot of pressure on those officers to move the traffic through," he said.
Last year the Emerson border had an average of 2,300 travellers per day.
Agents will scan a vehicle's licence plate to see if there are any warnings attached to it, but after that it's up to border agents to decide on further screening.
Passports are recorded in order to identify who has entered the country, but only about 10 per cent of travellers into Canada are brought in for closer examination, he said.
"People we want to intercept at the border fall through the cracks," he said. "It is conceivable that they just looked like a normal travelling family, and the officer just allowed them up the road."
"If it's the mom and dad and the kids, it's not uncommon just to allow everyone to come in, and just assume everyone is fine," he said.