A jury has acquitted a bounty hunter after he was accused of terrorizing a Coeur d’Alene family by threatening to break into their home to find a fugitive who wasn’t there.
The Coeur d’Alene Press reports the jury took less than two hours to find 24-year-old Reed J. Alefteras not guilty of trespassing and disturbing the peace after he and two other bounty hunters tried to enter a home last year to find a woman who had never been there.
Idaho law allows bounty hunters to use force to enter a home even if the fugitive sought is not in the home after they make an explanation and demand admittance, and Alefteras’ attorney Adrien L. Fox said last week his client was acting within his rights when he attempted to break in.
Homeowner Dalen Gunn told the jury Thursday he and his wife Mary were in bed when someone pounded on the door. When he answered, he saw Alefteras, a Spokane recovery agent, and two other men who were looking for a 46-year-old transient who had skipped bail after being charged with felony burglary and theft.
The woman had never been to the home, but provided a version of their address as her official residence. She used the address because more than a year earlier the Gunns, through their church, had helped the down-and-out woman and her boyfriend.
The Gunns had long since forgotten the woman’s name, and Dalen Gunn told jurors he feared the armed bounty hunter would mistake his wife for the fugitive.
Gunn said the men refused to provide identification or to show a warrant, and they dented his door by kicking it. He said they told him they would enter the home “one way or another,” and were shining flashlights in his front door and rear sliding door.
“I felt defenseless,” Gunn told the court. “I felt trapped in my own home.”
The Gunns called police, and that’s when Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Joshua Schneider came to the scene. He said his department isn’t trained in the laws overseeing bounty hunters, so he was only there to make sure things didn’t get out of hand after Gunn told him he would defend himself against Alefteras with a handgun if the bounty hunter tried getting into his home or refused to leave the property.
“My goal there was to mediate, and de-escalate,” Schneider said. “So we wouldn’t leave and come back later to a shooting.”
Laws for fugitive recovery agents — or bounty hunters — are grounded in an 1872 law that allows bounty hunters to enter a premises if they have reason to believe a fugitive is there.
“The privilege to enter land for the purpose of taking into custody a fugitive carries with it the privilege to use force to enter a dwelling even if the fugitive sought is not in the dwelling,” according to Idaho law. “Such force may be used only after explanation and demand for admittance.”
Idaho case law, including a Shoshone County case, supports the means necessary for a recovery agent to apprehend a fugitive “with reasonable and necessary force to effect the arrest but may not use unnecessary force,” according to a 2003 analysis by the Idaho Supreme Court.
Scott Gribble, a Washington bounty hunter and trainer who operates IFAST, the Interstate Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team, said Alefteras followed the procedures he teaches to recovery agents, although he may have used a different tack.
“I think the situation could have been handled better by both the defendant and Mr. Gunn,” Gribble said. “It went bad so fast.”