Armed Bounty Hunters Raided Our Clients’ Home to Prevent Private Companies From Losing $1,670

Around 9:20 p.m. on Sunday, April 23, 2017, Eugene Mitchell, Shayleen Meuchell, and their four-year-old daughter were in bed at their home in Lolo, Montana, when they heard a violent crash. “It sounded like a truck had driven straight into our house,” Mitchell later said. In a surreal flash, armed bounty hunters kicked in the front door, broke into the bedroom, pointed assault rifles and pistols at the family, and shouted at them not to move.

The bounty hunters terrorized the Montana family. But the trauma and harm did not end there.  

The bounty hunters arrested Mitchell, drove him to another county about an hour away in handcuffs, and eventually surrendered him to the jail, all despite not having a valid warrant for his arrest. The entire family remains shaken by the experience, and the damage to their property—which they cannot afford to fix—has caused a dramatic increase in their utility bills.

The bounty hunters were sent to arrest Mitchell not by police; they were hired by a bail bondsman. That past January, Mitchell was in jail related to a driving with suspended license charge, he could not afford his $1,670 bail, and so he used a commercial bail bondsman to secure his own release and return to his family and return to work to support them. When Mitchell accidentally missed a court date that April, his bail bondsman immediately activated a network of bounty hunters to search for and apprehend him.

The bounty hunters staked out the family’s home for two days prior to the attack while Mitchell was out of town doing construction work. During that time they frightened Meuchell—who was home alone with their two small children—and held a friend and her daughter up at gunpoint when they stopped by the house.

All this was over a small bail bond related to minor misdemeanor charges. And this story is far from isolated. In fact, it is common. Predatory and exploitative behavior on the part of bail bonds agents is not only widespread throughout the country, but is directly incentivized because of how the for-profit bail industry operates.

The players in this industry not only deal in trauma and mete it out, they profit from it.

The most recognizable presence of the for-profit bail industry is the estimated 25,000 local bail agents going to local jails, entering contracts with arrested individuals, and bailing them out. Yet, behind these agents are primarily nine large corporations—insurance companies who make money off of the millions of people each year who cannot afford to pay their full bail requirements. Each year, these companies make an estimated $2 billion in profits by keeping just 1% of total bail bonds backed across the country: such profits require millions of people and their families to be subjected to unaffordable bail amounts.

Under the terms set by the insurers with their bail agents, these huge companies face little to no financial risk to themselves. Rather, they require bail bonds businesses to shoulder any costs or losses. This means that even a single forfeiture—where the court keeps the full amount of bail deposited, usually because an individual missed a court date without returning during a set timeframe—could put a bail bonds agent out of business.

These high stakes from insurance companies push bail bondsmen to resort to extreme measures, including using bounty hunters (or, as they often call themselves “fugitive recovery agents”) to protect against financial losses. AIA Holdings, Inc., which was the parent company of the insurance companies backing Mitchell’s bond, expressly acknowledges the pressures to engage in bounty hunting. For example, a blog from AIA glamorized a bounty hunting effort by saying it “illustrates the forces that come into play when a defendant disappears while out on bail and a pile of cash is at stake.”

The commercial bail industry profits off people faced with the impossible choice between sitting in jail or entering coercive contracts with bond agents. Furthermore, the industry fortifies structural racism. People of Color—particularly Women of Color—suffer the worst financial harms. And these companies exact further harms by serving as a roadblock to positive change: employing lobbying groups like the American Bail Coalition to spread fear-mongering misinformation, attempt to stymie reform, and to preserve their fiscal bottom line. Only the United States and the Philippines allow a commercial bail industry to exist.

The exploitation insurance companies perpetuate depends on our abusive money bail system. And our punitive, dysfunctional bail system is the key driver of our mass incarceration crisis. The truth is we don’t need profit motives to ensure a fair and safe pretrial justice system. In fact, actual “fugitive” status is incredibly rare, and the majority of people present no threat of violence if released pretrial.  

The ACLU envisions a pretrial justice system that ensures speedy—and free—release to nearly everyone. There is no room for predatory profit motives in the world we’re working towards. That’s why we are fighting, with a vibrant movement of partners, to eliminate the for-profit bail industry and suing to hold companies accountable for what they did to Mr. Mitchell and his family.

View comments (29)
Read the Terms of Use

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

On television they make bounty hunting seem cool and exciting. Evil doers beware!

Anonymous

@Ms. Gloria Anasyrma But for $1600, is it worth it? You scum...

Anonymous

Sweetheart, TV is not real life...

Anonymous

If he wouldn't have missed his court date, the need for bail enforcement agents wouldn't have been necessary. Pretty simple deal actually. They seemed to use excessive force, but let's not forget what initiated this entire thing.... HE broke the law and HE missed his court date.... Please don't forget this as you're using these instances for your gain.

Anonymous

Does "excessive force" include terrorizing the family members who were not the ones on the warrant? What they did was out of line, period. If the guy was a violent criminal then I would agree, but let's use some judgment shall we when making moves that should be relegated to the Mossad or the CIA.

Ann Onymous

Read the article: 1) It states he was in jail "related to a driving under suspension charge" without any information as to whether it was pre- or post-trial. Thus, you can't know that "HE broke the law," because that pesky old "innocent until proven guilty" thing. 2) Excessive force in this case included loaded assault weapons pointed at children for a simple misdemeanor - the functional equivalent of a parking ticket. 3) THEY DID NOT HAVE A VALID WARRANT FOR HIS ARREST I think that makes your whole "law and order uber alles" argument pretty disingenuous.

20 years in pre...

He missed court and had an FTA warrant, that’s why he was hunted down and brought back to judicial process. If he would have surrendered upon forfeiture, this would have never happen. People can’t be trusted to “do the right thing”, they have to be physically dragged into court sometimes, that’s why there is over a 50% FTA rate for OR bonds like you want. The authors fantasy’s or how the criminal justice system works is delusional at best . Bail and bail bondsman provide the best solution to private choice of pretrial release for the defendant , county, and courts. Focus your efforts on violation of probations ; did you know you are held months on a misdemeanor violation of probation... months without bail. You should spearhead the fight for bail on VOPs. Over 60% of inmates are sitting because their pretrial release is being overlooked.

RWNJ Smasher

The only people who "can't be trusted to "do the right thing"" are those who support the brutal white male power structure. They are usually ignorant, frightened white males who believe a retrogressive, for-profit bail system that terrorizes people is good! Bounty hunters are obsolete...most of these guys are military flunkies or some other gun nut who is terrified of the diverse, tolerant world that's taking away his white privilege. Get used to it because you're a relic of a forgotten world that only existed in the fantasy of your intolerant minds.

As the article noted, America is one of only 2 nations with this antiquated commercial bail system. It's time to end a for-profit-bail system, and use only highly-trained, strongly-regulated government officials (do you really trust profit-driven bozos like the person who wrote this comment?). The federal government should pass legislation banning for-profit bail and enact legislation to tax local cities, counties, etc. and make them use the tax dollars to provide bail to people, or simply let most go on their own recognizance.

Anonymous

Bootlicker.

Anonymous

Missing court is missing court! And there would have been a warrant for missing court!

Pages

Stay Informed