Fingerprint ID analysis yielded 40-year fugitive arrest

Jose Romero is shown in booking photos in 1977 while in South Carolina, top, and on Wednesday following an arrest in Dover. Submitted photos/Dover PD, South Carolina DOC

DOVER — It began as a routine police investigation.

The Delaware Identification Card handed to an officer last week initially passed muster.

The card, however, was later deemed fake — held by an out-of-state fugitive of just over 40 years, authorities said.

A man claimed to be 61-year-old Arnaldo Figueroa during a loitering complaint on Dec. 28, 2019, according to a probable cause affidavit.

A Dover Police patrol officer responding to the One Stop Convenience Store on White Oak Road at approximately 12:31 p.m. determined he was intoxicated and trespassing.

The typical arrest process followed, complete with transport to the local police department, fingerprinting, a booking photo, paperwork and arraignment at Justice of the Peace Court 7 in Dover.

The defendant in custody signed the name Arnaldo Figueroa four times, police said, on the following forms: Dover PD prisoner property document, defendant history, no contact order and pretrial conditions and a bond/order to appear.

Finally, the arrestee was released on his own recognizance pending a future court appearance to face misdemeanor charges.

Turns out, according to authorities, the man was actually 64-year-old Jose Romero, a fugitive for more than four decades. The South Carolina Department of Corrections said he escaped from a prison work detail there on Dec. 13, 1979 while serving an 18-year sentence for armed robbery in Aiken County.

The facts quickly came to light through fingerprint analysis.

“We have had several cases in recent memory where fingerprints played a role in identifying a suspect when they provide false identity, putting a suspect at the scene of a crime, etc,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

With the evolution of technology, that has become more valuable to law enforcement.

“Technology has certainly made it more effective and a lot faster for all agencies,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

Delaware State Police have staff trained in 10-print forensic fingerprint and forensic latent print examinations.

Spokeswoman Master Cpl. Melissa Jaffe described fingerprints as “the Gold Standard for identification. (They) are the best form of reliability and accuracy.”

All Delaware law enforcement agencies use the Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

“With the evolution of AFIS it has been the best form of reliability and accuracy and is the same system that the FBI utilizes,” Cpl. Jaffe said.

Fingerprint checks don’t regularly generate unexpected information, but it’s not completely unheard of either, authorities said.

“It is not very often, however when it does, it is typically at the local level where someone has provided a false name,” she said.
Cases involving false ID cards and persons living under assumed names are rare, according to police.

“It is not often that we see this, generally it is usually a person verbally providing an officer with a wrong name,” Cpl. Jaffe said.

“We have seen cases where false identification cards are utilized during bank transactions, but again this is not that frequent.”

Dover police said they learned of the discrepancy on Dec. 30 after a standard fingerprinting procedure confirmed the real identity. Romero was re-arrested in Dover on Jan. 1, 2020 and currently faces charges in two states.

As with all arrestees and mandated by state law, Dover’s fingerprint results were automatically sent to the Delaware State Bureau of Identification operated by Delaware State Police. The information was then routed to the National Crime Information Center, which linked Delaware and South Carolina law enforcement agencies.

Dover Police received the real identity from the SBI via email two days later, according to the affidavit, and a search for re-arrest began.

Romero was quickly apprehended without incident by officers searching in the area of Willis and White Oak roads at around 11:23 a.m. on New Year’s Day, authorities said.

An $18,000 cash bond was set in JP Court and a Jan. 10 court date is scheduled.

Romero was held at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown for the local charges including public intoxication, loitering, third-degree criminal trespass, out of state fugitive, second-degree forgery (four counts) and criminal impersonation.

From South Carolina

While Romero has waived extradition to South Carolina, authorities said his Delaware case must be resolved before a trip south.

The apprehension led to the SCDC to issue a news release that thanked Dover Police and Delaware Attorney Generals office “for their cooperation and diligence in apprehending and returning this criminal.”

SCDC spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said Romero has about seven years left on his armed robbery sentence, along with any possible extra time for the alleged escape after conviction.

According to the SCDC, Romero was the state’s fourth longest sought fugitive, with other not accounted for from 1973, 1974 and 1977.
Dover Police spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman described the lengthy fugitive case as “very rare” and had no knowledge of a situation that’s been longer than the recent apprehension.

“We deal with quite a few people who provide false names to us, but to have a state-issued ID is pretty unusual,” he said.