Two handguns, a 9mm and a 7mm semiautomatic, lie loaded and holstered on the table. Two bolt-action rifles lean against a wall.
Three hard men sit within reach of their weapons. They sip coffee, smoke cigarettes and exchange war stories about the more memorable suspects they outfoxed and took to jail:
There was the jerk who led them on a wild chase, driving 60 mph the wrong way down Country Homes Boulevard a few days before Christmas. Another time, a 78-year-old man tried to avoid arrest by feigning a heart attack.
One other guy hid out two months before he finally was nabbed. “We’d be going in the front door and he’d be sneaking out the back,” says one of the men, beginning to laugh.
The scene before me belongs in the squad room of a police station. But here’s the crazy thing: I’m in the dining room of a tidy north Spokane home.
The guys who invited me here aren’t even cops.
Royce Lynch, 33, Tim Ehrmantrout, 32, and Sonny Crozier, 41, prefer to call themselves “warrant and bond-enforcement agents.” That’s because the term “bounty hunters,” carries too many negative connotations, they say.
Lynch is an imposing 6-foot-3 man with a sandy mustache and a stud in his left ear. He called the other day and offered to show me the positive side of a business he says often gets a bum rap.
Bounty hunters, according to Lynch, are lone rangers who don’t play by any rules. They kick down doors. They rough up their human quarry. “But we don’t violate anybody’s rights,” he says. “We’re not out to hurt anyone or get hurt.”
Still, Lynch and his crew track down, arrest and return to jail those who break promises to bail bond companies by skipping their court dates. For this bond agents earn a fee - typically $125 - for each person brought back. The money goes up if a hunt takes them out of state.
“It’s like a giant game of hide-and-seek and I’ve been doing it longer than they have,” says Lynch, an ex-Marine who has pursued this dangerous occupation since moving to Spokane from San Diego eight years ago.
Occasionally there is some rough stuff. Because bond agents have the authority to make arrests, fights and chases aren’t uncommon. All these men have had guns pulled on them.
“Some people just don’t want to go back to jail,” says Ehrmantrout, a compact, muscular man with a crew cut who lost part of one leg when he stepped on a land mine during the Gulf War.
Leg restraints, handcuffs, weapons and bulletproof vests are tools of this offbeat trade. Sometimes it’s difficult to know how much force to use. Lynch says he once pleaded guilty to a minor assault complaint filed against him by a man he took down. “I can live with that,” he says flatly.
Most police officers look down their noses at bounty hunters, bond agents or whatever they call themselves.
But the truth is that people like Lynch keep our overcrowded justice system creaking along. The police certainly don’t have time or personnel to hunt down everybody with an outstanding warrant.
“It definitely provides a service at no cost to the public,” says Judy Cave, who owns American Bail Bonds and who uses Lynch.
Cave figures three people will skip court out of every 10 she bonds out of jail. When that happens the bond’s cosigner can pay the entire amount, say $1,000, or 125 bucks for Lynch to bring the fugitive back.
There’s no lack of work. Every week Lynch reviews a fresh stack of mug shots and rap sheets of people the bond companies call FTAs, short for “failure to appear.” Sometimes only a telephone call is necessary to get a person back down to the courthouse to clear things up.
Those who won’t listen to reason keep Lynch and his pals busy. Last year they made 372 arrests, working part time. “It’s what I do best,” he says, “and there’s never a dull moment.”
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