January 29, 2012 in City

Officer’s ‘ruse’ with bounty hunter, fugitive led to suspension

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Two sets of requirements

While licensed bond agents in Washington can be as young as 18, bail bond recovery agents must be at least 21. Bond agents are prohibited from having any criminal convictions in the last 10 years that relate to their job duties or “hinder public safety,” according to the Washington Department of Licensing. For recovery agents, the state looks at any criminal convictions, not just those in the last 10 years.

Recovery agents must be citizens of the United States and must have a high school diploma or GED, or proof of three years of experience in the bail industry. They must be trained in civil and criminal procedures and on procedures for apprehending fugitives. They must be certified in the use of a Taser, baton and pepper spray. They also are required to take firearms training from a Criminal Justice Training Commission firearms training instructor and be certified through the commission.

A Spokane police officer who spent 10 months on paid leave while investigators probed the extent of his working relationship with an unlicensed bounty hunter is back on patrol.

Senior Officer Alan D. Edwards, 48, was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing but was found to have violated departmental policy by engineering an improper “ruse” to gain otherwise illegal entry to a Spokane home in 2009 while searching for stolen property. The city ordered him suspended without pay for two weeks and to undergo additional training in criminal procedure and report writing. He also was removed from the SWAT team until the training is completed.

“He’s grateful for the opportunity to get back on the force and do what he loves more than anything else, and that is protect the community out on the streets,” said Edwards’ lawyer, Chris Bugbee.

The nearly yearlong investigation into Edwards exposed a sometimes troubling relationship among police, bounty hunters, bail bondsmen and even sometimes convicted felons and wanted fugitives.

The case also raises questions over why it takes so long to investigate police officers, who by long-established protocols continue to receive their full pay for doing essentially nothing.

The police department would not comment on Edwards’ discipline. Bugbee says he asked why the investigation took so long, but he never got an answer other than the allegations involving his client were part of “a fairly wide-ranging possible conspiracy involving a bonding agent and police” that took time to examine fully. No police officers, however, were charged in the case.

“I just to this day don’t understand it,” Bugbee said.

Bounty hunter fed tips to police

A review of hundreds of pages of police documents obtained by The Spokesman-Review under a public records request shows Edwards’ discipline came as part of a larger investigation into an unlicensed bounty hunter, Dennis Kariores, who had a close working relationship with members of the Spokane Police Department and the Washington State Patrol.

Kariores, 42, would feed tips to police on cases they were working. Officers would sometimes back up Kariores when he was capturing bail jumpers.

Spokane police Detective Lonnie Tofsrud started investigating Kariores for working without a license in fall 2010. Because the state gives bounty hunters the authority to handcuff and detain bail jumpers, it requires they be licensed. Tofsrud noticed an unusual amount of phone contact between Kariores and Edwards, a 21-year police employee with experience in the gang task force and on patrol. That led to the expansion of the investigation that put Edwards on paid leave and resulted in criminal charges against Kariores and three bail bondsmen.

Edwards continued to earn his $76,886 annual salary as Tofsrud’s probe continued, which included trips to prisons around the state for witness interviews. Edwards’ fellow officers also were witnesses, and detectives interviewed members of the now-defunct WSP auto theft unit, for which Kariores often supplied information regarding fugitives.

WSP Detective Jeff Thoet told detectives last year Kariores had “crossed the line a lot” but maintained frequent contact with police.

“He’s coming into contact with officers every night just about,” Thoet said, according to an interview transcript.

Kariores now a fugitive

Kariores is now a fugitive himself. He’s been wanted since August on a $150,000 warrant for first-degree burglary, unlawful imprisonment and second-degree kidnapping in connection with two incidents in which he allegedly detained fugitives while acting as an unlicensed bail bond agent.

According to court documents, Kariores and licensed bond agents John P. McCormick, 43, and Eric W. Houchin, 40, unlawfully stayed inside a home in the 1100 block of North Nelson Street in February 2010 and grabbed a woman while trying to contact her husband for failing to uphold his bond agreement with All City Bail Bonds. The woman was not wanted by police, which meant the bondsmen had no authority to detain her.

The men are charged with first-degree burglary and unlawful imprisonment for the incident.

Charles E. Dasenbrock, 26, is charged with second-degree kidnapping, along with Kariores, for an Aug. 26, 2010, incident in which the men detained fugitive Bryan Hamblen at a home in Spokane Valley and transported him to Spokane, where Edwards arrested him. Prosecutors say neither had the authority to apprehend and transport Hamblen against his will.

All except Kariores have been arraigned and are scheduled for trial next month.

Edwards was not disciplined for either case.

He told investigators Kariores had informed him they’d be looking for Hamblen. Edwards said he told the bond agent, “Sure, go ahead – and if you get him, give me a call,” but that he never gave the men specific instructions. Computer records showed Edwards checked the fugitive’s name several times, but Edwards said he was verifying the man’s wanted status before and after he was detained.

Not lying – just wrong

The case that earned Edwards a two-week suspension involved Kariores and bail bondsman Robert Jackson. Jackson told investigators they devised a plan with Edwards in November 2009 to place a fugitive at a home on Nora Avenue where Edwards believed stolen Cadillac wheels were located. The fugitive, Christopher Hardwick, ran into the home as the bondsmen chased him, which enabled Edwards to access the residence without a search warrant.

Backup Officer Tony Lamanna was unaware of the ruse and was so surprised to see Hardwick on the property that he drew his gun and had to be told by Jackson to disengage, according to documents.

“I just know that I was really upset that they didn’t let me know that that was set up outside,” Lamanna told investigators, according to an interview transcript.

Edwards said he believed a resident gave him permission to enter the home, but Ted Danek, the city administrator at the time, said witness statements to the contrary are overwhelming.

“I am convinced that this was not the case, but I am also equally convinced that in your mind, you did ask for consent,” Danek wrote.

Danek compared Edwards’ insistence that he’d sought consent to his assertion that Lt. Joe Walker was present during the arrest. Walker, who described Edwards as a close friend in an interview with investigators, insisted he wasn’t there, and time sheets and activity records supported that. Edwards later said Walker may not have been there.

“As with the issue of entry into the residence, I do not believe that you are being untruthful, I believe that you are simply wrong,” Danek wrote.

The investigation created tension in the police department and the Washington State Patrol as rumors spread about the investigation and the possible reasons for Edwards’ administrative leave. In an interview with sheriff’s Detective Lyle Johnston, WSP Sgt. Dave Bolton urged him to take the WSP auto-theft unit – which has since closed because of budget cuts – out of the criminal probe.

“We’ve done nothing wrong,” Bolton told Johnston, according to an interview transcript. “I know how the chatter and the rumor mill goes and I want you to take my unit off the table.”

Bolton said he’d known Kariores for about five years and described the bounty hunter as “overbearing” and “egotistical,” adding they almost stopped working with him because he was difficult to control.

Johnston told Bolton that Kariores “does believe he’s an extension of law enforcement.”

More than 500 arrests

Kariores has misdemeanor convictions in Kootenai County for carrying a concealed weapon without a license and exhibiting a deadly weapon in 2005. He’s prohibited from possessing weapons because of three felony convictions for forgery, theft, and unlawful issuance of bank checks in 1992 and 1993. He applied for a recovery agent license with the state of Washington in March 2009 but was rejected.

In his application, he said he’s worked with police in Spokane County and North Idaho and has arrested more than 500 people in six years. “I am known as the guy to go to when they can’t find people, whether it be in Washington or out,” Kariores wrote. He included a letter of recommendation from former Detective Sgt. Chris Higbee of the Sandpoint Police Department, who is now a building contractor in Colorado.

Edwards said during the investigation that he didn’t know Kariores was a convicted felon. He said he never paid Kariores with anything other than departmental money that officers can use to reward tipsters. He stressed that their association was strictly professional and “he often had to redefine roles” with Kariores.

Danek said in his letter of reprimand to Edwards that it is “a widely acknowledged fact that you are an exceptionally active officer.”

Kariores told The Spokesman-Review in August that Edwards was a good police officer who works to keep the community safe.

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