The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Montana, and Terrell Marshall Law Group filed a lawsuit on behalf of Eugene Mitchell, his wife Shayleen Meuchell, and their six-year-old daughter against private entities — bail bondsmen, bounty hunters and insurance companies — who profit off our country’s exploitative, for-profit bail system.
Eugene Mitchell and his wife Shayleen Meuchell were in bed with their then four-year-old daughter in the spring of 2017 when six bounty hunters from the Montana Civil Assistance Group broke down their front door. They charged into Mitchell and Meuchell’s bedroom wearing body armor and brandishing pistols and assault rifles to arrest Mitchell, who had inadvertently missed a court hearing a few days before for two misdemeanor charges: driving with a suspended license and failure to carry proof of insurance.
Driving with a suspended license is a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of $500 or six month’s incarceration. Failure to carry proof of insurance carries a maximum penalty of $350. In January 2017, Eugene’s bail was set at $1,670. He purchased his freedom from a bail bondsman, who called the bounty hunters to apprehend him when he accidentally missed his court date. Though the bail bondsman and bounty hunters are the face of this industry, the real enablers behind the industry’s exploitation are the giant insurance companies that back them, generating billions in profit at almost no risk. These corporations work with lobbying groups like the American Bail Coalition (ABC) and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to promote and pass bills that expand the role of for-profit bail, protect their bottom line, and drive the incentive structure that preys on poor people in this country.
The plaintiffs are bringing claims for assault, trespassing, false imprisonment, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, as well as violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and the Montana Consumer Protection Act. This is ACLU’s first lawsuit against the private, for-profit bail industry.