The story of how Nelson Hackmaster ’99 joined the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) has nothing to do with the agency’s storied history, its famous fictional heroes or the fact that finding fugitives is on the daily to-do list.
“It was just good timing, a case of being in the right place at the right time,” says Hackmaster, who earned his B.A. in criminal justice at UTSA. The right place was, specifically, the office of Patricia Harris, then an associate professor of criminal justice.
Harris had just received an information packet promoting a unique cooperative education program with the Marshals Service called the Centralized Student Career Experience Program. Hackmaster, an undergraduate who was finishing up a degree interrupted by a seven-year stint in the Air Force, applied and was accepted into the 16-week work-study program.
As a work-study student, Hackmaster received training in a wide range of areas, including warrant operations, handling inmates and learning investigation strategies. Upon completion of the co-op program and a four-month stint in the USMS basic training academy, Hackmaster was wearing the badge of a Deputy U.S. Marshal.
With approximately 3,300 men and women on its rolls, the Marshals Service is the country’s oldest federal law enforcement agency. Its storied history began with the appointment of 13 marshals by President George Washington in 1789. Since that time, the service has chased counterfeiters, fought legendary Western outlaws such as the Wild Bunch and the Dalton gang, made history in the O.K. Corral, chased bootleggers and enforced civil rights laws.
In addition to apprehending murderers, sex offenders, gang members and other fugitives, the modern-day U.S. Marshals run the federal witness security program, protect federal judicial officials, manage and dispose of seized property for all federal law enforcement authorities and publicize a “15 Most Wanted” fugitives list.
In 2006 Congress designated the USMS as the lead agency in enforcing the Adam Walsh Child Safety and Protection Act.
“I think one of the things that helps us attract potential applicants to the USMS, aside from our long and colorful history, is the many hats we wear,” says Hackmaster. “There’s something for everybody depending on your likes and talents.”
A self-described Navy brat, Hackmaster was born in Spain and spent time in Cuba and other locations before his family settled in Ashford, Ala., where he finished grade school. A brief stint in community college led to his joining the Air Force, where he worked as a lab technician in the 325th Medical Group out of Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla. In 1997, he came to San Antonio with his wife, Melissa, a military nurse. The couple have two children.
Hackmaster’s first assignment as a deputy U.S. marshal was in Del Rio, located in the 68-county Western District of Texas, a district that shares 600 miles of international border with Mexico. There, he worked on “a lot of immigration cases.” From 2003 to 2008, Hackmaster was headquartered in Waco. It was there that he worked on several high-profile cases, including one in which marshals apprehended a habitual sex offender after a yearlong investigation.
“The one thing that stands out to me in this case is that when [the offender] was finally extradited back to Waco, I ran into him at the McLennan County Jail. He had no idea who I was but after chasing him for so long I knew everything about him. I took the time to stop and introduce myself. It was a pretty rewarding introduction,” Hackmaster recalls.
Hackmaster now holds the title of assistant chief deputy U.S. marshal for the Western District of Texas, overseeing the Waco, Austin, San Antonio and Del Rio divisions of the Marshals Service. Although reluctant to be singled out for any of the successful operations in which he has been involved, Hackmaster takes pride in “taking folks off the street who could come into contact with your friends or family.”
- Lynn Gosnell
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