BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — Former Austin Police Officer VonTrey Clark is locked up in the Bastrop County Jail awaiting an arraignment hearing and possible indictment in the shooting death of Samantha Dean thanks in part to a little known federal program that repatriates American fugitives from justice, an FBI spokesperson revealed this week.
Acting Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Austin, Daniel Snow said in a news conference held the day after Clark was flown home from Indonesia aboard a chartered Justice Department jet; the Bureau took advantage of a program funded by Congress called Project Welcome Home.
“Project Welcome Home was created to bring back some of these violent criminals and the serious criminals who try to escape our justice system by going overseas,” Snow said.
The program was created in 2004 and has resulted in the return of 400 people to the U.S. from more than 42 countries to face prosecution, according to a page on the FBI’s website.
Court records show Clark left Austin July 17th and boarded a commercial flight to Japan and onto Jakarta, Indonesia -a nation with no extradition treaty with the U.S.
That brought up questions in the days after Clark’s flight from Austin and his subsequent firing from Austin PD whether the 32 year-old would ever be found. And if he was located, how would authorities bring him back in a reasonable timeframe?
Extraditions can take a substantial amount of time, the FBI’s site shows since they involve the formal, legal process and provide for the fugitive to appeal. Extraditions can take months or years to be completed.
But when Bastrop County and state law enforcement authorities learned Clark had fled the country, they soon enlisted the help of federal authorities who requested a provisional arrest warrant enabling a foreign government to arrest a fugitive. That warrant dated August 18th, 2015 was contained in a document known internationally as a red notice.
Clark is charged with Capital Murder of multiple persons in the death of Dean and her unborn baby. Dean’s body was found Feb 4th at an abandoned Bastrop shopping plaza. She had been shot three times in the head, records show. Clark’s friend Kevin Watson is also charged.
“So when the Indonesians reviewed (the Interpol red notice and) his documents they decided to expel him. It’s like an immigration violation. We had cancelled his passport, so he had nowhere to go so… they kept him until we came and got him,” Snow told reporters Thursday.
Project Welcome Home funds the round trip travel of two law enforcement officials and a one-way trip for the fugitive from a foreign country to the United States, the FBI page shows.
Clark was arrested July 30th and detained in a Bali jail cell until the FBI’s aircraft could collect him. It departed Austin Aug. 16 flight records show. After reported mechanical delays that grounded the jet in Guam, agents picked up Clark Sept. 2nd.
After a 19-hour flight from Bali that included refueling stops in Guam and Honolulu, Clark was finally transferred to Central Texas authorities at a private jet facility at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at 12:03 a.m. Sept. 3 and whisked 25 miles southeast to the Bastrop County Jail for booking.
Acting Asst. Agent In-Charge Snow also told reporters this week there was much more to the logistical puzzle needed to bring Clark home apart from ‘lots of bureaucracy, …weather delays and mechanical problems.’
He pointed out this was a law enforcement operation that relied on diplomatic status, a 70-year-old FBI initiative known as the Legal Attaché Program, an important relationship tool especially dealing with countries that don’t have extradition treaties. The FBI’s liaison determines what the requirements are for a fugitive’s extradition, deportation, or expulsion. The Bureau has 64 Legal Attaché staff in 200 countries, Snow said.
“We develop those relationships as law enforcement to law enforcement so we can capture violent criminals… When the Sheriff and Texas Rangers asked us to do that – this case – Samantha was part of our law enforcement family here in Central Texas – we thought we had to go to great lengths to do what we could do to bring back Vontrey Clark in the interest of justice. That was important,” Snow said.
Why was Clark not put on a commercial flight?
“We transport prisoners around this country commercially all the time, but due to the circumstances we chose not to do that and (decided to) charter a plane,” Snow explained pointing out security concerns one such a long flight due to Clark’s training as a police officer.
Clark was part of a special Austin Police critical response team and had undergone special training for high stress incidents such as active shooter situations, police and TCOLE records show.
Snow’s parting comment: “If you’re a violent criminal in the U.S., the FBI has the reach around the world to come get you.”