Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bail Bondsman Investigated in Shooting

Nathan Hingson is one of about 140 bail bond recovery agents operating statewide.

Similar to "Dog the Bounty Hunter," the reality TV star with the mullet and muscles, recovery agents in Washington are licensed to put fugitives in handcuffs, carry weapons and force their way into people's homes.

Hingson opened fire in a busy Lake Stevens convenience store parking lot Friday when he was trying to arrest a fugitive. Lake Stevens police are investigating the shooting.

They are scheduled to meet with Hingson on Wednesday, at the bail recovery agent's request, Lake Stevens Police Chief Randy Celori said Monday.

State officials on Monday also opened an investigating of the shooting.

Hingson was trying to detain a Lake Stevens woman, 25, who allegedly has missed court dates and is wanted on multiple misdemeanor arrest warrants carrying nearly $23,000 bail.

Hingson said the woman was in a pickup outside the store and he told her to stop. Instead, she started the truck. He punched out the driver's window. Then she tried to run him down, Hingson said. That's when he said he shot at the pickup to get her to stop. Police are still trying to piece together exactly what happened.

Hingson said he was trying to arrest the woman because she is a fugitive and he guaranteed a court that she would show up. If she fails to appear in court, he could be on the hook for entire bail amount.

Linda Braswell is president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States. She said she has been a bail bonds agent for nearly 40 years, hunting fugitives in Florida. She has never fired her weapon.

"No one is worth me getting killed or me killing them," she said. "I'm not going to try to outrun or outshoot someone. I don't know any other legitimate bail agent that wants the liability that could be brought against us by the misuse of a firearm or any other weapon."

Hingson's attorney, Julian Denes of Everett, on Monday said his client has done nothing wrong.

"It has been indicated to me that in over 18 years of being a bail bondsman my client has never had to resort to shooting his gun," Denes wrote in an e-mail. "Further, he was in fear of his life, over a known criminal who has a warrant out for her arrest, when he discharged the weapon. He was clearly defending himself."

Although bail bond recovery agents arrest people and many are licensed to carry firearms, they do not have the same authority as police, nor are they governed by the same rules.

Typically people pay bail bond agents a fee to avoid sitting behind bars while they wait for their court date. The amount varies, but often is about 10 percent of the bail set by a judge.

Courts issue bail to defendants because of constitutional assumptions of innocence until somebody is proven guilty. Bail is intended to insure the defendant shows up in court.

The woman signed a contract with Bail Bond by Nate, Hingson's Lynnwood business, Hingson said.

The woman remained free Monday. Her legal troubles include allegations of driving with a suspended license, driving under the influence and making false statements to police.

Police don't believe the woman was injured Friday by the gunfire. Detectives want to interview her.

"We want to get the specifics on what happened during the incident and hear her version of the events," Celori said. Detectives aren't searching for the woman and will wait for her to get picked up or turn herself in.

It's against the law to discharge a firearm within Lake Stevens city limits, Celori said. Lake Stevens police have impounded Hingson's handgun as evidence.

Lake Stevens detectives also will gather evidence to forward to Snohomish County prosecutors to determine if Hingson was legally justified in using deadly force.

Anyone who shoots at someone else faces potential criminal charges, including illegal discharge of a weapon, assault or even attempted murder, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Mark Roe said.

When a firearm is used, prosecutors must decide whether a person acted in self-defense, Roe said.

"Police, bail bondsmen, anyone -- everyone's conduct is looked at the same way," he said.

In his more than 20 years as a prosecutor, Roe said he hasn't encountered a similar case.

Hingson also is being investigated by the state Department of Licensing, the state agency that regulates the bail bond industry.

It's not the first time Hingson has had to answer questions from state officials.

In February 2007, the state alleged Hingson failed to keep adequate records, committed "material fraud" and failed to maintain a trust account for his business. His bail bond agency license was suspended and he was ordered to take accounting classes. Hingson said he and his wife were victims of a Las Vegas-based bail bond business that set them up.

The Las Vegas company, Bail Bonds America, sued Hingson and his wife in 2005. Among other things, the Nevada company alleged breach of contract, theft and fraud. In court papers, Hingson countered that he and his wife did nothing wrong. A Seattle police investigation in 2005 determined that Hingson and his wife did not commit fraud against the company, according to documents Hingson filed with the court. The lawsuit was dropped.

The state issues different bail bond licenses, some for operating a business, others for issuing bonds and a third for bounty hunters.

Shortly after Hingson's business license was suspended, he obtained a bail bond recovery license, the license to find and arrest "skips," people who have missed their court date.

In April 2007, Bail Bond by Nate was opened by Hingson's wife and a friend.

After the business started, state regulators received a complaint that Hingson may have been issuing bail bond contracts, despite his suspended bail bond agent license.

No evidence to support the complaint was found, said Brad Benfield, a Department of Licensing spokesman.

Bounty hunters can carry weapons, but they are governed by the same rules that apply to everybody else, Benfield said. They can only use firearms if there is an imminent threat to their life, or someone else's life.

Friday's incident, added to a fatal shooting by a bail bondsman last month in Pierce County and the legal troubles of TV's Duane "Dog" Chapman, reinforce a negative stereotype about the industry.

"This business conducts itself in a really professional manor and does a real service to the community," Mike Rocha said. He's an Everett-based recovery agent who's been working in the field for 25 years. "It's our responsibility to make sure (defendants) show up in court."

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1 comment:

eddycjr said...

I feel, as with our clients, that a bondsman is innocent until proven guilty! If he did something wrong, prosecutors will let him know and the state of Wa will let him know. Until the verdict is in, he should have our support. We live a dangerous biz. If Linda has never pulled her gun, I bet somebody has for her. I get so sick of the backstabbing in the bailbond industry. It's why I don't belong to the Idaho association or any other. my biz is in Id and Wa and in Wa you have 2 months to resolve the case, that's not long. I support the bondsman in Wa until the verdict is in! Hometown Bail Bonds, Eddy Cain, owner