Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bounty Hunter Beats The Odds To Capture Sex Offender

Derek Morrison was hacking from walking pneumonia and had been up for about 60 hours when he delivered a fugitive sex offender to the Clark County Jail a few weeks ago.

Days earlier, the licensed bond recovery agent had driven 1,200 miles practically nonstop, from Vancouver to Arvada, Colo., west of Denver, where he found and handcuffed the man, 24-year-old Cory Robert Fellows.

“Running on vapor” by that time, Morrison put his prisoner in the back seat and began the 17-hour drive back to Vancouver.

Only 15 minutes from the Clark County Jail, he made a mistake.

It was about 4:30 in the afternoon of March 28. Morrison stopped his dusty blue 2002 Toyota Camry to let his prisoner use a restroom at a Burger King in Cascade Park.

What he didn’t know was that his prisoner had gotten the key to his handcuffs.

Moments later, he was gone.

The story of how Fellows was lost, found, lost and then found again gives a glimpse into the complex and challenging world of bail bondsmen — and the bail bond recovery agents they hire when things go wrong.

The target

Fellows had been convicted in Oregon of third-degree rape, first-degree theft and forgery. Charged in Clark County with second-degree assault for holding a pair of scissors to a girlfriend’s temple, he was convicted of third-degree assault in a plea bargain.

Scorning court appearances and probation terms, he allegedly moved from state to state, finding new girlfriends and defrauding them.

“He was really good at what he did and how he did it,” said Mike Thornton of A+ Bail Bonds in Vancouver, who has been working with Morrison for 12 years. “He did it very smoothly and didn’t think he’d get caught.”

In late October, Fellows was in custody at the Clark County Jail on a fugitive warrant, alleging that he’d fled Oregon while on probation for third-degree rape.

With his bail set at $50,000, Fellows convinced his mother, Donna Boyle of Battle Ground, to sign a deed of trust and use her home as collateral for the bond and any expenses incurred to its backer, American Surety Co.

In the Vancouver office of A+ Bail Bonds, Thornton agreed to post a $50,000 bond, and Fellows was released from custody. Four months later, the problems began.

The timeline

Feb. 21: Fellows fails to appear in court, violating the terms of the bail bond.

If recovery agents working for A+ can’t bring Fellows back in 60 days, the company might have to forfeit the $50,000 bail. The owner of A+, former police officer Tom Loos, could go to court to try to get the money back from Boyle, but it would be an expensive process.

It’s time for Thornton to bring in Morrison and get to work.

Feb. 24: Thornton speaks with Boyle. She says she doesn’t know where her son is, just that he was scared of going back to jail.

Feb. 25: The agents hit the streets. They get doors slammed in their faces by the mother’s neighbors.

“They were saying, ‘He’s a nice kid, and you should leave him alone,’ ” Thornton said later.

Feb. 26: The agents find someone who’d heard that Fellows is driving a family member’s green pickup and a motorcycle, and saying he was heading to Colorado.

Early March: A week or more has gone by when Thornton makes the next breakthrough.

“I Googled his name and, sure enough, there was a Web site that said, ‘Got scammed by Cory Fellows,’” he said.

A link led to RX7club.com, where four people complained of rip-offs, some related to vehicle parts.

“I e-mailed each and every person,” Thornton said later. “Half of them were former girlfriends.”

Still at the computer, Thornton discovers that Fellows has an active MySpace.com page that claims he was from the Breckenridge, Colo., area about 75 miles west of Denver.

At Zumiez, a hip young folks’ clothing store in Vancouver, Thornton learns that Fellows is an avid snowboarder.

He sniffs around on Mount Hood and e-mails wanted fliers with photos of Fellows to every ski resort and police department in the greater Denver area.

March 20: Thornton gets an e-mail from Officer Mark Kelley in Dillon, Colo.

A woman who lived in Dillon had told police Fellows dated her for awhile, ripped her off and left her hanging.

The officer says that Fellows’ new flame was named Megan, whereabouts and last name unknown.

With only the first name, “I searched thousands of profiles” on MySpace, Thornton said.

No luck.

March 26: Officer Kelley unearths the right Megan profile and e-mails a link to Thornton. The profile includes a comment by a man who turns out to be Megan’s brother.

That comment includes his — and presumably Fellows’ girlfriend Megan’s — last name.

Thornton puts the names together. He gets a hit in the Denver suburb of Arvada, Colo.

March 26, 9:30 p.m.: The journey begins.

Morrison and a buddy, Todd Hicks, load up the Camry and start driving toward Colorado.

It’ll be a virtually nonstop trip; no restaurants or motels, just convenience stores.

“I’d be pumping the gas, and Todd would go in and get the munchies,” Morrison said.

As Morrison and Hicks drive, Thornton is still working back in the office. He logs in to a skip-tracing database that private investigators and bond agents use.

He types in Megan with her last name and learns she has worked as a waitress at a barbecue joint near Arvada. He calls the manager.

Megan no longer works there, the manager says. But he knows Fellows is her boyfriend, and he’s sized him up as a freeloader.

The manager also happens to be a friend of Megan’s sister

March 26, 11:30 p.m.: Two hours into the trip, Morrison gets a call from Thornton with the exact address where Megan and Fellows are staying in Arvada.

The address came courtesy of the restaurant manager.

March 27, night: Racing against time and fearing Fellows might bolt again, Morrison arrives in Arvada, meets with the restaurant manager and shows him his badge and bail-bond paperwork.

The manager puts in a phone call to Megan’s sister and asks her to go outside without alerting Fellows. After learning what was happening, the sister agrees to let Morrison in and arrest Fellows.

“When I pulled out my badge, you could see his face drop,” Morrison said. “His shoulders kind of dropped, like he had no place to run, no place to hide, he was done.”

Well, not quite.

March 28, afternoon: Hundreds of miles later and barely 15 minutes from jail, Fellows makes his move and is on the lam again.

“You couldn’t print what I was thinking then,” Morrison said as he recalled the moment a few weeks later. “I was upset, but I was tired more than anything else.”

The agents still didn’t know how Fellows got the key to his handcuffs off Morrison’s key ring before the bathroom stop at the Burger King near Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard and Chkalov Drive.

At the time, they did know this: Fellows was gone, and they wanted him back.

“We went through back yards, hedges, fences, Dumpsters, everywhere within at least a 10-block radius,” said Thornton, who also helped out.

March 28, evening: Two hours later, with darkness approaching, “we figured out a scam,” Thornton said.

They enlist the help of a young woman to call Boyle, Fellows’ mother, and pose as Megan. She pretends to be worried, and says she wants to speak with her boyfriend.

Boyle tells her Fellows had just called, saying he’d escaped and needed his mother to break into Morrison’s Camry and retrieve Fellows’ laptop.

On a second call, Boyle gives the fake Megan the phone number Fellows had called her from. It came back to a pizza joint a couple of miles north.

Driving quickly to the restaurant, Thornton spots Fellows “nonchalantly walking out.”

Thornton, beefy and 6-foot-2, isn’t carrying handcuffs, but he tackles Fellows anyway and holds on as he struggles.

An elderly couple ask if they can help, and Thornton asks them to call Morrison’s cell phone.

Minutes later, Morrison arrives with the handcuffs and it’s over.

March 28, night: Moaning with fatigue, Morrison walks to the Clark County Jail with Thornton and they deliver Fellows into official custody.

But the surprises aren’t over.

During a search of Fellows during booking, a custody officer says, “You want to see something scary?”

He shows them the handcuff key.

A pause to reflect

The agents say their expenses, in gas, food and pricey online services, cost about $2,000.

How much will Morrison make for the job? That remains to be seen, he said.

Typically, the agents said, they’re hunting five or six people at a given time. About 10 percent of the folks they bail out fail to make their court appearance, and they catch all but a few.

While Morrison carries a concealed .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol, the last time he had to pull it out was several years ago, when a man threatened to bash his head in with a piece of lumber.

“I could probably count on one hand the times I’ve used physical force,” he said.

At 38, he says he’s getting too old for this type of stuff. But you can tell he sometimes enjoys his often grueling job.

“It has its moments,” he said.

Thornton, 35, is more enthusiastic.

“It’s a kick in the pants,” he said. “It’s the thrill. The money’s just a bonus. We just put our nose to the pavement. You have to think like (the bail jumper) in a way.”

Police in Dillon and Arvada, meanwhile, said they’re investigating allegations about Fellows’ deeds there and plan to seek warrants for his arrest. On April 7, deputy prosecutors in Clark County obtained a warrant for Fellows’ arrest, charging that he failed to register as a sex offender.

Fellows wasn’t in the Clark County Jail on Friday and his whereabouts are unknown.

A mother’s view

Boyle told The Columbian she has another opinion of her son’s capture by the agents.

She says the agents went too far when they posted wanted fliers in her neighborhood, with her son’s photos, telling everyone he’s a sex offender.

The relationship was consensual, and the girl claimed to be older than she was, she said.

Boyle said she arrived home one night and the agents appeared suddenly at her car window, flashing badges.

“It scared me,” she said. “It was like, ‘What?’ I didn’t know who they were.”

And she feels the agents went too far in the way they reminded her she’d signed that deed of trust to her home, to bail Fellows out of jail.

“They told me that one night that I would be on the street within a week. They didn’t have to be that drastic to me,” she said.

And she defended her son, who declined to speak to The Columbian on advice of an attorney.

“I have good kids,” she said. “He’s trying to start over.”

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Anonymous said...

Great job on the story, It really shows that recovery work has its ups and downs, The last thing you would want to happen when fighting an illness is loosing the guy, I cant quite figure out how he took the handcuff key, But i suppose it could happen, Thats why you always want to do a thorough search on the defendant anyone can get a handcuff key to match most cuffs we use, Not that alot of fugitives run around carrying them in their pocket but you never know, A good search on the fugitive can save you many problems!!

Anonymous said...

This is a great story about the Profession.

Anonymous said...

I don't care if someone is only being transported across the street, he's going to have a belly chain, leg irons, and connecting chain along with his handcuffs. Lucky this Agent wasn't killed.

Ken BRS LLC said...

Awsome job guys. Remember to turn all pockets inside out. Double search any you can't. Socks, hat bands, belts and seams should be checked if you are transporting any distance. As the prior post said belly chains should be used and leg irons when walking. The most important and the one that would have prevented this incident, NEVER let the fugitive out of your sight.
Still and awsome example of skip searching and diligence in returning the fugitive. Remember we are a phone call away.
Ken, Bail Recovery Services LLC

Anonymous said...

Thanks guys, Im glad this was a positive response concidering the circumstances.

Michael L. Thornton

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on capturing Fellows this afternoon. The girl he was with could have been his next victim if you didn't catch up to him. She's freaked out but very lucky. Good job!