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National organization responds to arrest of Alabama bounty hunter following search of home

Criminal charge filed in search of home. (Reese Photo){p}{/p}
Criminal charge filed in search of home. (Reese Photo)

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala (WBMA) - Following an ABC3340 News I-Team investigation into a Tarrant woman's claims she was terrorized by bounty hunters looking for her son, we received many questions from viewers asking was this legal? Since our report recovery agent John Hester has been booked into the Jefferson County Jail on a criminal mischief charge. He bonded out the same day. In a telephone interview Hester's attorney says his client did not break the law.

"I'm having to go to therapy. I can't sleep. I wake up in cold sweats," explained a tearful Claudette Reese of her encounters with bounty hunters that came to her door in April. She says they came on three occasions. Each time her son was not there. One time she says they stayed for hours, ransacked her home and kicked in her doors.

"This is the exception not the rule," says Chuck Jordan, President of the National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents which has 4,000 members. The group helps set standards for the industry.

"We are a private industry, but the work we do has a public service side. We make sure defendants are in court and take dangerous people off the street," explains Jordan. It's estimated the recovery agents apprehend 30,000 fugitives a year. Taking officers off the streets to do the job would cost taxpayers and tie up law enforcement.

He says the vast majority of bounty hunters are independent contractors working under bail bond companies. If a person breaks their contract with the bond company by not showing up for court a bounty hunter may be sent to find them.

Many have questioned if they can go in a house without a warrant? Jordan says yes, they're given contractural authority to re-arrest them and return them to custody.

See also: Tarrant woman claims bounty hunters terrorized her in her home

He explains federal case law does give them broad authority to break and enter to apprehend a suspect, but some states have moved to curtail those rules. Each state has it's own laws.

Jordan says he is troubled by what he's heard about the Tarrant case. "The tactics described or alleged are not something we endorse or recommend," remarked Jordan.

He says they are moving the industry to a more professional level focusing on low key and low impact tactics. That means less kicking in doors which can be extremely dangerous with armed suspects or innocent people inside. Also when a third party is involved that raises issues of liability if someone is injured or property is damaged. They may be responsible.

Jordan explains there is now more of a focus on surveillance and apprehending a person safely outside a home. He tells us the recovery agents should have eyes on the fugitive.

"We can make an apprehension in circumstances that are more favorable to us, our team with less liability," explains Jordan.

There have been cases where agents have gone to the wrong house with guns drawn.

Jordan also says bounty hunters should never imply they are law enforcement officers. Cards which read United States Apprehension Task Force were left with Claudette Reese. She tells ABC3340 News she thought the men were U.S. Marshals. They carried guns, wore badges and bulletproof vests.

"This has been a topic of debate. It's something the national association heavily discourages using a name that resembles a government agency such as U.S. or a state," says Jordan.

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An Alabama state board now oversees recovery agents. It is responsible for licensing agents and investigating complaints from the public.

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