Prince George's County sheriff's deputies last night launched the second roundup and mass arrest in four months of parents delinquent in child support payments.
Deputies carrying arrest warrants on nonsupport charges fanned out to make arrests in the northern part of the county, and by early today had 37 men and one woman in custody. More sweeps aimed at arresting parents on those charges are planned for Wednesday and Thursday.
Sgt. Terry Justin of the sheriff's support enforcement unit said about 400 people were targeted for eventual arrest and that officials were hoping to pick up about 40 in each of the sweeps this week. All those arrested last night are scheduled to appear in the county's Domestic Relations Court today.
Sheriff James Aluisi said his department has approximately 2,300 warrants charging parents with nonpayment of support. He estimated that about 65 percent of those people live in the District of Columbia, out of reach of his department. Aluisi said these individuals owe anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars in child support payments.
Last July 18 Aluisi's department drew national attention with its first arrest sweep in which 86 people were rounded up. Most were released on bond and ordered to appear in court to make arrangements to pay up. Several of those arrested in that sweep complained that they were falsely charged and did not owe any money. The sheriff's department acknowledged that in some cases the courts had not been apprised of private arrangements the parents might have made.
Aluisi said yesterday that the arrests "may not be the best way to encourage payment , but it's the only way we have right now." He said that a night in jail often prompts people to come up with cash they claimed they did not have. The sheriff also said he expected to arrest 11 persons in this sweep who had also been arrested last July.
Aluisi said all of those targeted for this week's sweeps had been sent letters informing them that they owed support money and that there was a warrant against them.
During the first two weeks of October an amnesty period was held during which parents could come to the courthouse in Upper Marlboro, make their payments and have the warrants quashed. Justin said that about 90 people took advantage of that amnesty period.
Last night deputy sheriffs brought prisoners in handcuffs to the parking lot of the county police Special Operations Division station in Riverdale where they were greeted with bright lights and cameras from several news organizations.
The prisoners were photographed and fingerprinted in a small van, then loaded onto a county bus to be transported to the 40-bed weekend jail in Upper Marlboro.
Ricardo Anderson, 33, of Landover, was one of those picked up last night. As he sat in the back of a deputy's car he told reporters that he was $400 in arrears in support of his child, who is 12.
"I think this is kind of heavy. Criminals don't get this [treatment] ," Anderson said. He said he was behind in his support payments because he had been trying to start a business.