CEDAR RAPIDS — Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Chris Barther started out on a much different career path, going from a pre-K teacher to “finding people who don’t want to be found” — fugitives.
Barther, 34, said growing up in Pompano Beach, Fla., he spent a lot of time at summer camps and participated in the Boys and Girls Club and wanted to take what he learned from those experiences and mentor kids.
“I always enjoyed working with kids,” said Barther, a father of two. “Kids are great. They are so eager to work and learn things.”
Barther taught at a preschool while in high school, which led him to major in early childhood education at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Although he enjoyed teaching, he started considering other career options in his junior year and decided to pursue public administration, criminal justice and emergency management.
It started with an internship at the U.S. Marshal’s Service in Washington, D.C.
After graduation, he took a job with the U.S. Capitol Police in Washington, D.C., where he worked for a year before becoming a U.S. marshal in Miami.
“It was just a different way of helping people,” he said.
One of the youngest chief deputies
Barther is one of the youngest chief deputies in the 94 federal districts across the country, but brings experience from four marshal services in Florida, Ohio and Virginia before coming to Iowa.
He replaced Myron McDaniel, who retired last December after a 31-year career, in March.
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U.S. Marshal Douglas Strike said Barther brings a “wealth of knowledge” to the job from his previous experiences.
“He has a lot of contacts at headquarters (in Arlington, Va.) and brings a different perspective to the office,” Strike said. “He’s a good guy and family man, and I think he will be around a long time.”
U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan agreed, pointing out that Barther has spent a lot of time getting to know the issues in the district.
“I think the world of Chris,” Deegan said. “We are lucky to have him. He had great experience and is an effective communicator. He is already looking for creative ways to look for needed resources.”
What marshals do
Barther is now the highest ranking sworn law enforcement professional who runs the day-to-day operations in the 52-county Northern District of Iowa, which has offices in Cedar Rapids and Sioux City.
Each of the marshal districts across the country has a politically appointed U.S. marshal who oversees the district, and the deputies carry out the operations of judicial security, fugitive apprehension, prisoner operations, witness security and asset forfeiture.
Security for the courthouses and judges is the “No. 1 job” of the marshals, Barther said.
“We provide all the security and services for the courthouse and judges and want people to feel safe when they come inside,” Barther said. “We have a lot of responsibility and work closely with other area law enforcement to combat violent crimes.”
Barther’s first post in Miami had him as part of a Florida/Caribbean task force, which encountered violent gang members and tracked down fugitives wanted in shootings, homicides, drug trafficking and carjackings.
He also handled several health care and federal tax fraud cases, involving doctors and nurses billing for services they didn’t actually do, he added.
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Barther said he gained interesting experiences assisting other agencies and also was involved in some “notable” extraditions involving drug trafficking and sex offender cases, given the international travel to Miami.
“The marshals service is good at finding people who don’t want to be found,” Barther said.
Barther was involved in tracking an individual wanted in New York for killing his girlfriend and her male friend. The man wore disguises, including costumes and masks, to evade law enforcement.
Marshals tracked him to an apartment building, where he started shooting at Barther and others. They deployed a robot to determine his location in the apartment. The robot discovered the man had killed himself.
Barther said it was a dangerous situation because, during a search of his apartment, they found multiple guns, including two AK-47 rifles, along with ammunition.
Emergency medical care added to skills
Barther’s next stint was in Dayton, Ohio, from 2013 to 2015, and his first time of being in the Midwest. While there, he trained to become a medical technician, working under an emergency care doctor to receive his certification in emergency medicine. He would go out on calls with firefighters to gain hands-on experience.
He briefly considered a medical career but didn’t want to leave the marshals service.
From 2015 to 2018, Barther worked in the Tallahassee office and oversaw the district’s judicial security. That meant dealing with violent extremists and “sovereign citizens,” individuals who believe they get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore.
Barther said the sovereign individuals, coming into the courthouse for legal disputes, would threaten court security. They also challenged the marshals during home and property searches. Barther said the marshals had to navigate potentially dangerous situations because the group had guns and explosives.
U.S. marshals headquarters
Barther then took a position at the U.S. marshals headquarters in Arlington, Va., until coming to Cedar Rapids in March. He oversaw the National Continuity Programs for all 94 judicial districts. working to ensure the marshals could perform their essential functions under all conditions.
He conducted risk assessments and data analysis to find ways to minimize or eliminate interruptions during emergency situations, including pandemics and cyber and terrorist attacks.
Job opening in Cedar Rapids
When McDaniel retired, Barther applied because it was a chief deputy position, and he wanted come back to the Midwest with his wife and their two children.
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“I’ve always treated every place I’ve been like home,” he said. “We have friends in Des Moines, and we talked to them about the move. I don’t mind the cold. I like the slower pace.”
Initially, his biggest challenge when he arrived was the pandemic and all the restrictions. He had to quarantine for two weeks after moving from Virginia. It was difficult not meeting people face-to-face, and once in the office, everyone was working different shifts to minimize exposure risks.
“Our district covers a lot of territory so trying to build relationship bridges with your personnel and community became very difficult,” Barther said.
Even with the coronavirus impact, there hasn’t been much downtime for the marshals, Barther said.
The Northern Iowa Fugitive Task Force has continued to find and arrest violent individuals, and prisoners are still being sentenced and have to transported to federal prisons outside of Iowa because there aren’t federal prisons in the state.
The marshals also continue to provide judicial security and protection for the judges and staff, and investigate individuals who threaten, harass or attempt to intimidate the judges.
Another surprise was Iowa’s Aug. 10 derecho. Barther has been through hurricanes on the East Coast, but said Iowa’s inland hurricane was “impressive — how much damage it did and how fast it came in. This one was bad.”
The marshals had the task of securing the U.S. District Courthouse in Cedar Rapids after glass areas of the building shattered.
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