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Duane ‘Dog’ Chapman: Hawaii must regulate bounty hunters


America’s best-known bounty hunter says it’s time for Hawaii to start regulating the industry.

Duane “Dog” Chapman, who stars with his wife, Beth, and son, Leland, in the CMT cable television reality show “Dog and Beth: On the Hunt,” was responding to a story published Tuesday by Stephens Media Hawaii.

An East Hawaii bounty hunter, Benny Gordon, was indicted Jan. 15 on charges of first-degree criminal property damage, second-degree reckless endangering and two counts each of third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and possession of drug paraphernalia.

The charges stem from an incident Sept. 4 in which Gordon, a fugitive recovery agent for 4Freedom Bail Bonds, is alleged to have engaged in a high-speed chase through Keaukaha in pursuit of Raylad Brown, who was wanted on a warrant. Gordon is alleged to have used his pickup truck to ram the sedan Brown was driving several times, including once into a rock wall on private property, before chasing Brown down on foot and apprehending him. Police say that when they arrested Gordon, he was in possession of two glass pipes with crystal methamphetamine residue.

Gordon denied having rammed the car, saying he was following at a distance and that Brown missed a curve and ran into the wall on his own. He said he tried to pin Brown in but Brown got away, and that Brown actually rammed Gordon’s truck when they encountered each other again. He also said the pipes belonged to Brown.

According to court records, Gordon has a lengthy criminal history, including two convictions on felony charges in 2007 and five more in 2008, plus another pending drugs and firearms case — including alleged attempted methamphetamine trafficking. He denied the allegations, claiming they stem from a prosecutor’s vendetta against him.

The 60-year-old Chapman is the owner of Da Kine Bail Bonds and has been a bail bondsman and bounty hunter in Hawaii since 1989. A convicted felon, for what authorities say was a minor role in a 1976 murder in Texas, Chapman said there should be mandatory licensing and training for bounty hunters, as there is for bail bondsmen, and that recent felons should not be allowed to be bounty hunters.

“There’s really no training right now in Hawaii; there’s no laws about that,” Chapman said. “And Beth and I and a few other bondsmen are trying to get to the Legislature and introduce some legislation. In most states, you have to be a licensed bail bondsman to bounty hunt. If you’ve been convicted of a felony, you have to have 10 years from the date of conviction and/or from the date of discharge from parole or probation before you can even apply.

“Most of the time when there are problems, it’s because somebody’s been convicted of a felony within the past year and is trying to turn his life around and he decided to bounty hunt, or something like that. … There are ex-convicts who want to completely change their lives and flip around. So they want to go bounty hunt, thinking this will completely clean the slate with the state, America and God.

“Where there are no regulations, you see guys who are recent felons going out there and acting like muscle, grabbin’ the guys wrong, beatin’ ’em up, takin’ payoffs (and) lettin’ ’em go. It’s hard when you’re making $150 to bring someone in and the guy’s got $500 in his pocket and he says, ‘Listen, let me go, I’ll give you $500.’ If you don’t have some sort of morality, it’s hard to turn that sort of money down. We’ve had problems where these felons who have just done time last year with the fugitive have become friends with the guy. And they let ’em go.

“As a bail bondsman, you deal with felons every day. You’ve gotta draw the line between friendship and business.”

Chapman said he has made more than 8,000 arrests, some for first-degree murder. Because he’s a felon, he has to work without firearms, using what he calls “nonlethal weapons,” such as Tasers, pepper-ball guns and bean-bag guns. He said his own research shows an average of 85 percent of all fugitives across America are brought in by bounty hunters.

“So every single day in America, bounty hunters are bringing guys in, and there’s hardly ever anything that goes wrong, unless either the bounty hunter or skip tracer is not certified, not licensed or has been convicted of a felony in the past year,” he said.

“I don’t want to pick (Gordon) apart. He said the ice pipes were found on (Brown). He should have either broke those ice pipes apart or called the police right that second. Ramming the guy’s car with a vehicle, you don’t do that.”

Chapman said, however, that it’s not a good idea for a bail bondsman to hire bounty hunters who have recent felony convictions or who have just been released from prison or parole. He said that bail bondsmen have surety insurance and misconduct by their agents can lead to lawsuits.

Gordon’s employer, 4Freedom Bail Bonds owner Scot Ling — who at one time worked for Leland Chapman for Da Kine Bail Bonds on the Big Island — said Thursday he considers his outfit “a second-chance company.”

“Part of hiring Benny Gordon was to help rehabilitate him, help him get back in the mainstream,” Ling said. “Benny’s good at what he does and I think it’s a good fit for him. We try to help as many people as we can in that respect.”

Ling said he doesn’t condone high-speed chases or the ramming of vehicles by his agents.

“We wouldn’t necessarily ram somebody. We would block their way,” he said. “And it hasn’t been shown that (Gordon) rammed the other car. Of course, I wasn’t there, so I cannot really say. It’s hearsay, the reports of people saying what they thought happened.

“If you’re asking me if I train my agents to go ram other cars, absolutely not. I want them to follow the same laws everybody else has to follow, as far as that’s concerned.”

Ling added that his agents “normally don’t work alone.”

“It just so happens Benny ran across Raylad Brown and … apprehended him,” he said. “The items that police are saying may have been Benny’s were in a fanny pack, which is what Benny is saying he took off Raylad Brown. And I don’t know if the criminal property damage is stemming from the vehicle or the wall that was hit by Raylad’s car.”

According to the indictment document, the charge is for the alleged damage to the sedan.

“What wasn’t said is that Benny actually went down and repaired that wall,” Ling said. “Even though Raylad had promised to do that for the homeowner, it didn’t get done, so he went down and purchased some cement and Benny did the labor.”

Asked what he thought of regulating bounty hunters, Ling said: “To me, that’s fine as far as having oversight.”

“We’re just trying to keep the community safe,” he added. “And if somebody gets out of jail and decides they’re gonna go out and do criminal actions, we’re gonna do our best to get them back behind bars.”

Thursday was the deadline for bills to be introduced in the current legislative session — and none were submitted to regulate the training or licensing of bounty hunters.

Hawaii Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito, who regulates the licensing of bail bondsmen, said Thursday that the regulation of bounty hunters is “beyond the scope” of his office.

“The whole tie-in with bail bondsmen is because they sell surety insurance,” he said. “We don’t generally regulate agents or entities that are not insurance related, and there are other agencies that might be the more appropriate agencies to regulate bounty hunters.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.