BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen can think of a lot of things that could go wrong if armed bounty hunters are not regulated by any common-sense laws that protect an individual’s constitutional rights.
But he would rather not.
Instead, he will present a resolution next week to the Common Council that requests information about the legal framework that bounty hunters operate within. This comes less than a week after News 4 Investigates was first to report on the terrifying encounters that two Buffalo families recently had with bounty hunters. Pridgen plans to file the resolution on Wednesday so that it can be discussed at the Feb. 16 Council meeting.
Jake Reinhardt, the owner of the South Buffalo two-family home, accused bounty hunters of an illegal raid.
Reinhardt said the bounty hunters looked like police officers, and at least one wore what looked like a police badge and the other had the words “United States Fugitive Task Force” on the back of his black jacket. He said he also saw two actual police officers on the sidewalk, which is what led him to open the door as the bounty hunters outside pounded and screamed for him to open or they’d kick down the door.
The federal lawsuit accuses the armed bounty hunters of entering his home at about midnight without any consent to do so. The bounty hunters also lacked a warrant, the lawsuit states.
Despite that, they searched through Reinhardt’s first-floor home while his pregnant fiancée clutched their 3-year-old crying daughter. One bounty hunter had pointed a long-gun at his fiancée, Reinhardt said.
Another bounty hunter busted into the upstairs apartment that Reinhardt rents to another family with young children.
This intense scene played out in front of several Buffalo police officers, who idly stood by watching.
In fact, two of the officers can be heard on the surveillance footage recorded by cameras at Reinhardt’s home admitting that they did not know the agency that the bounty hunters represented.
The bounty hunters, at least one of whom is from Pennsylvania with Bail Shop LLC, were looking for Reinhardt’s brother, who missed a court hearing in the Keystone State.
But his brother was not there and has never lived there. Reinhardt said he had no idea why the bounty hunters had his address.
The bail was only $5,000 for three misdemeanors involving an alleged theft at a store in Pennsylvania.
Bail Shop LLC, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, has not returned numerous phone calls from News 4 Investigates.
Pridgen said his resolution requests that the city’s law department provide a rundown of all state and federal laws that regulate or guide bounty hunters, as well as any policies for the police department that specifically deal with how officers should interact with bounty hunters.
News 4 Investigates already reviewed the Buffalo Police Department’s procedures manual and its rules and regulations handbook, neither of which include any policies about bounty hunters. A Buffalo Police Department spokesman on Tuesday confirmed that no such policies exist.
That may come as a surprise to some people, considering the 1998 death of Robert McLellan, a Buffalo police officer who died on duty after being struck by a vehicle on the Kensington Expressway while assisting bounty hunters chase a fugitive.
That death resulted in the state legislature passing a law in 2000 that now requires bounty hunters to be licensed to work. The law also requires bounty hunters to contact the local police agency in the correct jurisdiction they are in before any attempt to capture a fugitive.
In some cases, bounty hunters have more legal power than law enforcement officers because of an archaic ruling in 1872 by the Supreme Court. For example, a bounty hunter can enter the home of a fugitive, without consent or a warrant. They also can extradite a fugitive across state lines.
Pridgen said he could not speak to the specific incident in Buffalo reported by News 4 because the homeowner, his mother and his upstairs tenants have all filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, each individual police officer at the scene, Bail Shop LLC out of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and the bounty hunters.
But he still wants answers about how the industry operates and what their rulebook looks like, he said. Pridgen said the council has the power and the will to lobby federal legislators to conduct a review of the industry if that becomes necessary.
“I understand bounty hunters have a job to do but I want to make sure that we are not in a position, and this is just generally, in which bounty hunters come into town and can knock down doors if it is illegal,” Pridgen said.
“I am concerned, and I do want to know the answers.”