What happens when a "wanted" man isn't wanted at all?

A Portrait Of The Young Man As A Fugitive 

What happens when a "wanted" man isn't wanted at all?

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According to court proceedings, a representative from that office presents a stack of suspect files to Crime Stoppers of Cuyahoga County. That list, however, comes with a specific directive: Check these names out before the broadcast. Often enough, such a background check is simply accomplished by way of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas' online court docket.

Sullins wasn't alone that night. A review of records shows that 11 of the 25 featured "fugitives" on that one episode were no longer wanted for anything at all, some of the cases cleared and put to bed for weeks or months. Almost half of the people called out on the show that night were not wanted by the police. (Calls to those people seeking comment were not returned.)

Their convictions included burglary, sexual conduct with a minor, carrying concealed weapons felonious assault and more. Sullins' case stood out as having been closed the longest before the episode's airing.

Via signed affidavit, Rech confirmed that Pinpoint Media had received the information pertaining to Sullins "shortly before" the episode's airing in March 2010. At the time of the airing, Rech says, he had no reason to doubt the validity of the information, despite the Sheriff's Office explicit instruction to double check the information.

Sullins' attorneys noted that Crime Stoppers Case Files producers either ignored the docket altogether or gave it some sort of once-over in a "comatose state." Either way, bad information ended up on air.

Rech says that, following a later check of the docket, it turned out that Sullins' case had indeed been filed through the courts and closed. Citing a possible glitch in the system, he reiterates having no intention to highlight anyone who wasn't actively wanted by police.

The process of getting a name like Sullins' on the air started with a package of materials from the county.

On a monthly basis, Sgt. David Rutt of Crime Stoppers would get a call from the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, letting him know that a fresh round of files was ready for him. He'd travel to the department, pick up the paperwork - jacket fronts of files for wanted fugitives - and take the materials across town to Pinpoint Media.

Erin Acklin, a dispatcher at the sheriff's department, said that she had prepared the collection of jacket fronts that included Sullins' name. None of the paperwork handed over to Crime Stoppers and Pinpoint Media included information about a specific outstanding warrant. But Acklin later acknowledged that, after the inaccuracies came to light, the department's I-Max internal warrant system did indeed show that a warrant was out for Sullins' arrest. That conflict was cleared "sometime thereafter," she said.

Beyond assisting in that work, Crime Stoppers' additional role involved the payment of rewards for tips or busts. The organization acts as an intermediary between a local government agency and a local media outfit.

Somewhere in the middle lie hundreds of names. Some get remembered, some get tossed behind bars and into the public records of the county. Sullins' name was remembered - most especially by friends who confoundedly watched his mug splash across their TVs during an otherwise quiet spring weekend.

"I had to walk around wondering," Sullins says. "I don't know who saw me. That put me in a paranoid state."

Nearly a year had passed since Sullins walked out of the courtroom with a guilty plea. Probation. Fines. Work. Sleep. A future, somewhere. Then, the phone calls.

"The cops are looking for you."

***

At the center of a defamation lawsuit is that very portrayal of Sullins. Several seconds of screentime make up the fulcrum of a civil case working its way through the appeals process now. The impact of the broadcast on Sullins' personal life, he says, was far-reaching.

He arrived to murky conversation at work the following Monday. News of his supposed fugitive status was making the rounds in his life and and on the job at Industrial Control Design. Co-workers were eager to bust his chops and discuss the benefits of turning him in for the reward money on the table.

Sullins says this image of him began to eclipse his actual personality in the eyes of nearly everyone around him. The charge of passing bad checks -- something he had readily admitted doing and long since paid his debt for -- carries a heavy perception of distrust that began leaking into various circles of his life. He says he thought he had done his time, but the shadow of his past crime was creeping into his present-day life.

His boss let him go from his job within a few weeks of the airing. His honesty was once again compromised, he says. In 2010, that crime's residue came back full force. No one was interested in hearing about the probationary period he completed. The restitution, the fines.

Around the same time, the mother of his two children began barring him from seeing the kids. She feared intrusion from the police, a seeming eventuality that she had no desire to witness.

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