This sort of redefines the idea of “speak softly and carry a big stick”.
A video shared with the Miami Herold shows bounty hunters with Manhertz Bail Bonds slamming their way into a Miami Gardens home… over a $750 bond (full video at bottom of article).
Their argument is that he’s a habitual traffic offender.
Only problem… is that he apparently hadn’t lived in the home for 20 years.
According to reports, armed agents from the bail bond company woke up Donald Colas on the night of May 5. They allegedly shined a light into the bedroom where his 2-year-old slept, then stormed into the house with a battering ram, stun guns and crow bars.
They were searching for 28-year-old Berlin Gabriel, a fugitive who owed $750 following his arrest for driving with a suspended license. He’s Colas’ cousin.
They broke down two doors and searched under mattresses – unaware that Gabriel had used his cousin’s address when police asked where he lived.
Legally, that gave the bounty hunters — who are actually referred to as bail bond agents in Florida and bail recovery agents elsewhere — the legal right to locate and detain Gabriel at his listed residence.
Those agents are licensed by Florida’s Department of Financial Services and protected by Florida Administrative Code. That means they don’t have to have a search warrant to enter the home where they believe the fugitive they’re seeking is residing.
“I did not know he was going to use it,” Colas said of his cousin. “I was very upset by it.”
In the video, Colas is heard telling the agents that Gabriel was not at the home. He wouldn’t let them enter, which sparked a standoff between the band of bond agents and his family inside the home.
But Colas lost that battle when the stormed through an exterior fence and the front door as they searched for Gabriel.
Colas said he’s going to file a lawsuit after what his lawyer, Faudlin Pierre, referred to as a “state-sponsored home invasion.”
Records show Miami Gardens Police were called to the home three times on the night of May 5.
But in a video of the incident, one of the bounty hunters said, “We have more jurisdiction than police officers”.
Miami Gardens Police are looking into the incident have yet to comment publicly.
Pierre sent a letter to Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, police chief Delma Noel-Pratt and the Miami Gardens City Commission on May 20. He called for an investigation and the reprimanding of the officers involved.
“If you choose to do nothing, this will reinforce my clients’ belief that this was nothing more than a state-sponsored home invasion,” Pierre wrote.
According to Pierre, a police supervisor at the scene told the bond agents that police officers could not compel the family to open their doors, then ordered responding officers to leave the scene.
He said officers were called for a second time, but waited outside the home as the bond agents rummaged inside… and then they left again. He claims that after a third call, nobody responded.
Gabriel was never arrested, but a family member paid off the debt two days later.
Gabriel’s original arrest was in November 2018 and he was released on bail shortly after.
In Florida and many other states, bail bond companies charge defendants 10 percent of the bail set by the court for state crimes, and 15 percent for federal crimes.
Gabriel claimed in a later court filing that he had lost his job and had no money.
According to Pierre, his client was never informed that Gabriel used his address in court documents.
“The guy didn’t appear for a traffic ticket, it’s not like the guy was a murderer,” Pierre said in an interview. “What gives these individuals, who are just basically hired contractors, to go into a third party’s home and destroy other people’s property?”
Pierre claims he’s going to file a civil lawsuit, yet it didn’t say who it would actually be against.
Mike Nefzger is the southern director of the Florida Bail Agents Association and president of Big Mike’s Bail Bonds in West Palm Beach. He weighed in on the case and said there was clearly a reason why the bond agents in the Miami Gardens case raided the home.
According to Nefzger, when someone is arrested, they give police an address… and if Gabriel used Colas’ address, bond agents can assume it’s his address. He says they’re legally protected.
“It’s not like they picked a random house and went out and said this guy is staying here,” he said. “If he used his cousin’s address on his arrest record, you can make an assumption that that’s his address.”
Nefzger points out that the bail-bond recovery system in Florida is more regulated than those in other parts of the country.
You’ve probably heard bail bond agents referred to as bounty hunters, but Nefzger said the term isn’t accurate in Florida.
As a matter of fact, state statute goes so far as to prohibit agents from representing themselves to be a bail enforcement agent or bounty hunter — despite the fact that their jobs are practically identical.
Here’s how it works in Florida.
Bail agents can’t be felons, and according to the Department of Financial Services, they must be of “high character” and “approved integrity”. They also have to be at least 18-years-old to apply and allowed to carry a gun.
“Florida, unlike a lot of states, we don’t have bounty hunters. You have to be a licensed bail agent in order to go pick up,” he said. “You have to go through all the requisite training that is required to get that license. That’s the one huge difference in Florida.”
Brian Johnson is a professor at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. He wrote a study on the American bail-bonds recovery industry and said this case shows the far-reaching protections and privileges afforded to bail bonds agents.
He references the Supreme Court’s 1872 decision in the Taylor vs. Taintor case. That ruling gives bounty hunters license to go after bail-skipping defendants at their home, or whatever address they list.
There’s also a part of the ruling which stipulates that bounty hunters could arrest a defendant even on the Sabbath.
“If that person put down that address as one of the places where they live, under federal case law bounty hunters do have the legal authority to enter the residence,” Johnson said.
Johnson states that the Fourth Amendment right to protection against illegal search and seizures doesn’t actually apply to private entities like bounty hunters.
“Legal guidelines are all based upon that surety contract,” he said. “By that person signing that surety contract, they have in essence waived that Fourth Amendment right.”
The American Bar Association holds a strong anti-cash-bail position.
Four other states have eliminated commercial bail – those states Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon and Wisconsin.
The other allow private bail bond agents to hunt down and arrest fugitives. That’s according to a 2013 study co-written by Johnson, the Grand Valley State University professor.
According to that report, only licensed bail agents and other licensed professionals, like a private investigator, can hunt down bond bouncers in Arkansas, Florida, Ohio and Texas.
In August, California tried to become the first state to try and abolish cash bail, but voters won’t decide on that proposal until a 2020 referendum.
For their part, owners of bail bond companies argue the system saves taxpayers money. They also say it’s extremely effective at ensuring that defendants show up for court.
Nefzger said sometimes defendants miss court dates for valid reasons, and says bail bond companies should try calling them first.
“If they did abscond and we did go after them, then law enforcement isn’t involved,” he said. “The system is saving money.”
According to Colas, nobody was hurt during the raid. But he claims agends were happy to break into his home and thanked him for letting them use their new “toy.”
“It’s weird to me that they feel they’re in the right to do that,” he said. “You’re violating something that’s very sacred to someone. Now you have my wife don’t want to be there. She doesn’t feel really secure there.”