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.

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Anonymous

Bench warrants for missing court are not automatic. It's within the judges discretion to issue, so in this case its very possible there was no valid warrant as the article states

Anonymous

And how does that justify holding your family & friends at gunpoint, when they know that he's not even at home?

Anonymous

What about "your client" just not violate the law. Do they or even you ever think of that? Hopefully, they won't come to your house to break the law, but, then again, if they do, you might see the error of your ways and thinking.

Anonymous

Well if the dumbass would have went to court, they wouldn't have come knocking

Anonymous

The bail system in this country is beyond ludicrous.

Anonymous

The recovery agents should of never terrorized the family and they need to repair the door.
If any of my agents did this they would be fired immediately. Not all Bond Agents are bad. Professionalism is a must. The Bail agency simply had to get in contact with the client and make sure he returned to court at the bond Forfeiture hearing. Very simple task. My sympathies to the family and child who had to endear this mess.
Communication with Clients is always the best way to handle missing a court date. Life happens, people forget about dates.

Anonymous

Thank you for standing up for the people. That's right life happens!

Melissa

Don't fail to mention all the criminals that Bail agents bring back into court to hold them accountable for their charges. Bail has been around for ages and for good reason, the criminals are not always victims.

Anonymous

Why won’t you approve the comments that many have left?

Mr. James Miller

I stopped reading this article halfway when I realized that the facts about the bonding companies and Insurance companies are simply not true. And just so everyone is aware, the judges set the bond amounts, not the bail agents. The bail agents at best charge 10% to the client and gamble on the remaining 90% of the bond amount that the defendant will return to custody. Why are the bail bondsmen always under fire? Why are the judges not the ones being blamed for high bail when they are the ones that set the bail schedules? Is there corruption in the bail industry? Yes there is. Is there corruption in government? Yes there is. There is corruption in every industry you can imagine. Stop blaming the bondsmen and calling them greedy. I know a ton of bondsmen and most of them are regular workers like you and I that struggle to make ends meet. Enough ALCU with criminal rights. This BS is destroying our country. If you commit a crime, you should know what world you are getting yourself into. If you miss a court date and the bondsman is responsible for your entire bail amount to the court, you better know that they are going to come after you. The above story is obviously a bad situation. But it does not happen as much as they lead you to believe. Stop lying to the American public! Go talk to people in New Jersey where bail reform eliminated cash bail and crime is out of control. No one gets locked up and the criminals know it. Plus, no one is financially responsible to get this persona back in court to face sentencing. It is the Wild West.
Wake up America!

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