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Bounty hunter legislation stopped

By BRYAN CLARK

The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee refused to print a bill Monday that would regulate bounty hunters in Idaho, at least for now.

The bill was written by the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association and presented by lobbyist Michael Kane, who said the bill came in response to two recent incidents of bounty hunter-related shootings in Idaho.

The most prominent example was in 2015, when Philip Clay was killed by bounty hunters in Idaho Falls. The group of bounty hunters was led by Guy Bracali-Gambino. Clay had a gun drawn when he was killed, and the shooting was ruled to be in self defense.

The man who killed Clay had no experience in bail recovery. He had only worked a handful of shifts as a bouncer. He was recruited the night before the shooting, given a badge and gun, and sent with other bounty hunters to apprehend a man he had been told would kill before going back to prison.

There are currently no requirements to be a bounty hunter in Idaho. A serial violent felon can be a bounty hunter. A serial sex offender can be a bounty hunter. A person with such severe mental illness that they have been judged legally incompetent can be a bounty hunter. There is no age restriction, so in theory a child could act as a bounty hunter.

“There are no rules at all as to the conduct of these individuals,” Kane told the committee.

That includes basic constitutional protections such as the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure.

“The Bill of Rights … only applies to governmental entities,” Kane said. “It doesn’t apply to private actors.”

Grainy video obtained by the Post Register from several days before the Clay shooting showed a group of men exiting a black SUV near Dad’s Travel Center on West Yellowstone Ave. and conducting a search of a car.

It was consistent with a police report in which a relative of Clay’s alleged that the bounty hunting team that eventually killed Clay had pulled her over and searched her car. The woman told investigators the bounty hunters had assault rifles and were pointing them at her and her son, a minor.

The proposed bill would have added some requirements for bounty hunters in Idaho, but not many.

“We need to start somewhere,” Kane said.

For example, serial violent felons and serial sex offenders could still act as bounty hunters. But the bill would have banned fugitives from being bounty hunters, along with non-citizens, those with severe mental illness and those younger than21.

When making a planned arrest, the bill would have required them to wear a shirt saying, “Bail Enforcement Agent,” and not to wear a badge or a law enforcement uniform.

Several of Clay’s relatives said when they talked to Bracali-Gambino and other bounty hunters, they believed they were talking to law enforcement officers.

The bill also would have required bounty hunters to obtain an affidavit authorizing them to arrest an individual before doing so; to have the name, last known address and a photo of the individual they are authorized to arrest; and to carry identification.

The bill also would require bounty hunters to notify the county sheriff before attempting an arrest.

Last year’s bill died after lobbying by bounty hunters, including Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman of Hawaii. It had previously passed the House 57-13, and received a “do pass” recommendation from the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee.

Chapman previously told the Post Register that he hoped to sit down with Patricia Holt, Clay’s mother, to craft a bill that would satisfy bounty hunters’ concerns as well as hers. She says after an initial contact with Chapman’s wife, she never heard back.

Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, was among those who voted in favor of the 2016 bill.

She asked whether Kane was willing to work with the bail bonds industry to work out disagreements over the bill. Kane said he was.

With that, Trujillo made a motion to return the bill to its sponsor — effectively keeping the bill from being printed while leaving open the possibility that a similar bill could be printed in the future. The motion passed in a voice vote, with a few Democrats dissenting.

Monday was the deadline for bills to be introduced in most House committees, making it likely the bill is dead for the year. It is possible that one of a few “privileged committees,” including House State Affairs, could introduce the bill.

Holt said she was disappointed in the move.

“Let’s hope there are no more instances like the one in 2015,” Holt said. “If so, legislators will have blood on their hands.”

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