Monday, February 11, 2008

Clarksville Woman Has Home Broken Into – Legally

Ashley Gholston had just put her 4-year-old daughter to bed when she noticed red laser dots appear in her darkly lit home on Daniel Street.

Flashlight beams shone through her daughter's window, and she heard pounding at her door and voices telling her to open it.

Gholston, 21, said her first instinct was to grab her daughter.

Her boyfriend, John Bradley, 24, jumped out a back window and ran.

Moments later, four bounty hunters stormed through her front window and ran through the house, chasing Bradley, she said.

When they couldn't catch him, they came back in the house and approached Gholston.

"I was shaking," she said. "My daughter was crying the whole time."

Gholston said she thought one of the men pointed a gun at her, but she later discovered it was a taser.

He told her she could go to jail for housing a fugitive.

The men were bounty hunters, and until then, Gholston didn't realize her boyfriend was on the run from them.

When police arrived, Gholston said she learned Bradley owed on a $5,000 bond from Clarksville Bonding Co. in a case that stemmed from a June 2006 drug-related charge, according to court documents.

Hannah Christy, co-owner of Clarksville Bonding, said they have been looking for Bradley for a few months, and he has told them he would turn himself in.

Gholston said after talking to police she found out she had no rights to press charges against the Clarksville Bonding or the bounty hunters they hired for breaking into her home.

If she had known Bradley was wanted and was there, she could have been arrested for harboring a fugitive, police told her.

In fact, Gholston said she's certain they will come back looking for him.

"I'm going to just open up the door the next time they come looking for him and let them search the house," she said. "They said they are going to keep on doing it. ... They can't say I'm harboring a fugitive.
How it works

Someone can be classified a bond jumper if he fails to notify the bonding company that he moved, if he misses a court date without any notification or if he fails to pay his bond fees, Christy said.

Bonding companies are then told by the courts that the person has a warrant out for his arrest, and bond companies have the right to hire bounty hunters to search for the bond jumper.

Christy said a bounty hunter must see the bond jumper go into a house before they go in the house after him.

Jeff Moorhead, lead bail enforcement agent at Bail Busters, another local bail bonding company, said that under Supreme Court law precedent in Taylor vs. Taintor (1872), bondsmen or bounty hunters have the right to seek out and arrest a person owing them money.

Moorhead said when a person is initially arrested and comes to a bail bonding company, the company can charge 10 percent of the bond plus $37.

After that, paperwork is filed with information including numerous phone numbers, addresses, family member names and employment and a co-signer guaranteeing the person charged will make his court appearance.

If the person charged does not appear in court, a warrant is issued for his arrest and the bail bonding company must act quickly, Moorhead said.

"We have 180 days to find that person and surrender them back to jail, or we forfeit the total cost of the bond to the court," he said.

Many bail bonding companies hire bounty hunters, or help to search out the fugitive, Moorhead said.

There are certain rules when it comes to seeking a bond jumper.

"You can't just go kick in the door," Moorhead said. "You got to make sure the person's there ... you have to act in good faith."
Working it out

In Gholston's case, Moorhead said the bounty hunters weren't in the wrong.

Even Gholston said she noticed a car sitting outside near her house. The bounty hunters were making sure Bradley was inside.

"If he was there, they can kick in the door," Moorhead said.

Moorhead said anyone owing bond can set up a payment arrangement to avoid being surrendered back to the jail.

"The bondsmen are trying to help you out," Moorhead said about those whose bail they pay.

"It's not all about the money to us — we want to help people. I always believe in the good in people. If you make an agreement, pay your bondsmen because they are trying to help you out."

Christy said she hopes the bounty hunters find Bradley or she will be out $5,000.

If he turns himself in, Christy said, it will be better for everybody.

"As long as he turns himself in, I'm glad," Christy said. "I don't want to be looking for him, and I know he doesn't want to be looking over his shoulder all the time."

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