John Rosa and his fellow bounty hunters are on the hunt. They’ve gone to an Oak Cliff home, looking for a man wanted for bail jumping on an aggravated robbery probation violation.
They are bounty hunters with decades of experience. They surround the house. “More than likely if he’s going to come out, he’s going to come out through the back window,” Rosa said.
Rosa is cautious. They’re traveling incognito in a nondescript van. They’re wearing bulletproof vests and carrying Tasers.
“You don’t kick anybody’s door,” he said. “There’s a thousand ways to skin a cat. Just wait for them to come out. You have to be patient. Where bounty hunters may blunder is they may try to make a quick buck, and this is not a quick-buck occupation."
Two recent incidents have brought uncomfortable scrutiny to the profession.
In August, three bounty hunters broke into an apartment in Dallas, terrifying 18-year-old Michael Faz and his younger sisters. They were innocent.
The bounty hunters were looking for their uncle who didn’t live there. Faz recorded the incident on his cell phone.
The bounty hunters can be heard threatening to take him to jail and to get CPS involved. Faz told police the bounty hunters forced him to his knees, pointed guns at him and handcuffed him.
The bounty hunters -- Lucas Burrows, John Faulstich and Miguel Hernandez -- are all three licensed as private investigators or commissioned security officers. They were working for EZ Out Bail bonds. Faulstich told police they kicked in the door because an informant told them the uncle was in the apartment, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. They face charges of burglary.
Rosa says the bounty hunters should have never kicked in the door. Not only is it illegal, but it is also unsafe because you never know what’s on the other side of the door.
Unlike like many states, Texas has strict on rules on bounty hunting. Only peace officers, private investigators and commissioned security officers employed by a licensed guard company can act as bounty hunters.
The law forbids bounty hunters from entering a home without permission. There are no restrictions on public places.
“If you didn't have bounty hunters or Texas didn't permit bounty hunting, bail bond companies wouldn't exist,” said Rosa, who is also a bail bondsman.
If someone jumps bail, the bail bondsman is on the hook.
Rosa, a licensed private investigator, said police simply don’t have enough resources to go out and look for all the bail jumpers.
“It’s imperative that you have a mechanism to go out and apprehend individuals who bail jump,” said Dallas attorney Anthony Farmer.
Farmer sometimes writes bonds for his clients. When he needs a bounty hunter, he calls Rosa because he trusts him to do the job right.
“He's able to talk his way through before it gets to a level of violence,” Farmer said.
Rosa said the job frequently entails conducting surveillance, backgrounding the bail jumpers and paying snitches for information.
“We give money to individuals or family members who are maybe tired of the defendant bringing turmoil to their front door,” he said. “Steps moms are the best snitches.”
Two months before the Dallas case, you may remember that bounty hunters – guns drawn – moved in to arrest a fugitive inside a Greenville car dealership. He pulled a gun.
The two bounty hunters – Fidel Garcia Jr. and Gabriel Bernal – as well as the fugitive Ramon Hutchinson -- died in the gun battle. Neither Garcia nor Bernal was wearing their protective vests. They’d left them in the car.
The bounty hunters had been waiting for hours for Hutchinson and a female companion who was scheduled to come into the dealership to trade her car. Hutchinson was wanted because he had skipped court on a drug case. He was also wanted for disarming a police officer and assault on a police officer.
“I would never have picked an active auto dealership to make a safe arrest,” Marta Fonda, a seasoned fugitive hunter who spent 32 years with the U.S. Marshal's service. “You don’t corner them. You’re a lot better off again to use patience. You cannot blow it by backing off.”
After retirement, Fonda did bounty hunter work for a Dallas area bail bondsman. She was not impressed with the bounty hunters she met.
“They reminded me of guys that go and hook cars in the middle of the night,” she says. “You kind of wondered had they tried to be a cop and not made it. had they been a cop and gotten kicked out.”
Fonda believes situations like these highlight a need for more oversight, as well as scenario-based training, so they can be better prepared for the situations they’ll encounter.
Rosa said the bounty hunters in the Greenville case should have notified police when they got to town and asked police for help with taking him into custody.
“They blundered right from the inception of their hunt,” Rosa said. “You can't get sloppy. You have to do things a certain way to ensure that you return home.”
Garcia was an at-large director with the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators. He was a Texas certified investigator, a higher level of credentialing for private investigators.
Bernal was a commissioned security officer working for Garcia’s private investigations company.
Catherine Torrez, Cockrell Hill’s former chief, knew Garcia well through their work with the association.
“He was not the gung-ho type to go in half-cocked or risk anything, so that’s why we were very shocked when this happened,” says Torrez. “He was still commissioned as a law enforcement officer. He had plenty of training on how to do it and in this decision. It just didn’t work out.”
Torrez is a certified investigator but does not do bounty hunting work.
Back on the hunt, Rosa and his fellow bounty hunters didn’t find their bail jumper.
“We’re going to have to catch him outside that house because we never laid eyes on the guy, so we don’t know whether he’s in there or not,” he said.
They called the Dallas County’s Sheriff’s office asking if warrant officers were available. None were. So it was time to move on to the next case.
“We’ll be back here though,” Rosa said.
Rest assured, they will get their man. Eventually.