CEDAR RAPIDS — Law enforcement officials said tips from the public should never be underestimated because many times tips lead to an arrest, as it did this week when U.S. marshals found a fugitive on the lam since March.
Gene A. Nelson, 24, of Cedar Rapids, is charged in Linn County District Court with third-degree sexual abuse and, in a separate case, with forgery.
The U.S. Marshals Service highlighted Nelson as a fugitive last week when it announced a new mobile app — USMS TIPS — that allows the public to provide anonymous tips to law enforcement.
Nelson is accused of sexually assaulting a woman Aug 5. 2018, and writing a check on another’s person’s account without permission on March 21 this year.
According to court documents, an arrest warrant was issued for Nelson on the sexual abuse charge last December. He was arrested Dec. 14 and then posted bail three days later. He was charged with forgery March 21 and failed to appear for an April 1 hearing.
A pretrial release report shows Nelson removed his GPS ankle bracelet April 1. A probation officer tracked the ankle monitor to a dumpster at Nelson’s apartment complex but was unable to retrieve it because of the amount of trash in the dumpster.
Officers attempted to contact Nelson, but his whereabouts were unknown until Wednesday after marshals received a phone tip.
Nelson has previous convictions for willful injury, domestic abuse, several thefts and probation revocations.
U.S. Marshal Douglas Strike, of the Northern District of Iowa, said marshals rely on citizens to provide information on “fugitives, non-compliant sex offenders and threats against the judiciary.”
Law enforcement relied on information from the public in the recent double homicide in Cedar Rapids when they were looking for five “persons of interest,” including Andre Richardson, 26, who was charged with fatally shooting two teens and seriously injuring two other teens May 18 in a shooting at a southwest Cedar Rapids smoke shop, Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden said.
After Richardson’s arrest, Chief Deputy Tom Jonker said social media, along with surveillance video, played a valuable role in the investigation.
Investigators follow social media during investigations like this because “it’s incredible what people will post,” he told The Gazette.
First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said officials rely on evidence in filing charges and also on witnesses. If law enforcement doesn’t get information about a crime within 72 hours, there’s a “distinct danger of it becoming cold.”
“We want people to come forward in those early stages,” Maybanks said. “We have this culture of retaliation in some of these recent cases, and if police have that information (on suspects) early, they can potentially prevent the next shooting by making an arrest.”
Maybanks said there is an “inherit distrust” of law enforcement in some sectors, or some individuals fear that providing information may harm their inner circle. But sharing information on crimes, he said, will make the entire community “safer and free from violence.”
“We can’t build criminal cases without witnesses,” Vander Sanden said. “Technology only gets us so far. The criminal justice system needs people to make it work.”
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