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Posted April 22, 2019, 7:00 am CDT
The American Civil Liberties Union is taking on the bail bond industry in a suit filed after bounty hunters stormed a Montana home at gunpoint to apprehend a man who missed a court date.
The federal suit was filed April 17 on behalf of Eugene Deshane Mitchell, his wife and their 4-year-old daughter, report Courthouse News Service and the Missoulian. A blog post by the ACLU of Montana and the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project is here, and an ACLU press release is here.
Mitchell had paid First Call Bail and Surety $228 for the company to post his full $1,670 bond on charges of driving on a suspended license and without proof of insurance. The January 2017 contract that Mitchell signed gave the company power to use physical force to apprehend him.
After Mitchell didn’t appear in court in April 2017, bounty hunters kicked open his front door and entered the family’s bedroom with guns drawn, the lawsuit says.
The entire family suffered emotional injuries, according to the lawsuit. The daughter runs and hides whenever anyone comes to the door. Nor can the family afford to fix the broken front door.
The suit alleges violations of the federal racketeering law and Montana consumer protection law, as well as trespass, false imprisonment, assault, and infliction of emotional distress. Defendants include a bail bond company and insurers who backed the bail bonds.
“Bounty hunting is an abnormally and inherently dangerous activity,” the suit says.
The suit includes some statistics. There are 25,000 bail bond agents nationwide, but most of their business is underwritten by only nine insurance companies.
The insurers make an estimated $2 billion in annual profits by keeping 1% of total bail bonds they back throughout the country. The bail bond companies bear the risk if their clients don’t show up for court and forfeit their bond. To protect against financial losses, the bail bond companies hire bounty hunters to apprehend clients.
The suit claims that various defendants are violating the federal racketeering law through extortionate extension of credit and kidnapping. It also alleges that consumer law is violated through companies’ unconscionable contract terms and threats of violence to obtain payment.
Andrea Woods, staff attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said in a press release it’s easy to look at the bounty hunters as “the villains of the story.”
“But the insurance companies are making billion-dollar profits off this predatory behavior,” she said. “They’re the ones who fund the lobbyists to enact laws that enable this to continue unfettered. They must be held accountable.”
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