By Ananda Shorey
WASHINGTON – Five bounty hunters beat, pepper-sprayed and spit out racial slurs at Chinelle Moore inside her Laurel home, then drew a gun on her 5-year- old daughter — before realizing the man they were looking for was not home.
Moore said her life has been in shambles since that 1998 day when the bounty hunters ransacked her home while on the trail of her brother. She came to Capitol Hill Wednesday to ask Congress to keep the same thing from happening to others.
Moore testified in support of legislation to make bounty hunters, and the bail bondsmen who employ them, liable for civil rights violations and to require that they notify local law enforcement authorities when they cross state lines in pursuit of bail jumpers.
“This bill is needed so that the behavior of the bounty hunters can be closely monitored,” Moore told the House Judiciary Committee’s Constitution Subcommittee. “We cannot allow rights of innocent people to be violated.”
But opponents called the bill “enormously dangerous.” They said the bill would make it less likely that risky individuals could secure bail, further crowding jails, and less likely that prisoners who jumped bail would be caught if bounty hunters are handcuffed.
Jerry Watson, of the National Association of Bail Insurance Companies, said the bill will disrupt or eliminate a system that works to bring offenders to trial, and would therefore let a higher percentage of fugitives remain at large. He also argued that bail bondsman should not be held responsible for misconduct by bounty hunters.
“If this legislation is passed it will increase crime in America,” Watson said.
That line of reasoning brought sharp questioning from Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., the sponsor of the Bounty Hunter Responsibility Act. He said the bill would keep innocent citizens, like Moore, safe from the abusive actions of rogue bounty hunters.
“Bounty hunters are free to break into the homes of people thought to be criminals, without any accountability to innocent individuals who may be injured because of wrongful and abusive conduct,” Hutchinson said.
A similar bill by Hutchinson died last year. Maryland lawmakers killed a state bill to regulate bounty hunters in 1998 — months before Moore was attacked in her home by bounty hunters.
Watson argued that regulation of bounty hunters should be left up to the states.
But a Chevy Chase attorney who studies the legal issues surrounding bounty hunters testified that states are not doing enough to address the recurring abuses by bounty hunters that endanger people’s lives.
“Only 13 states have licenses for bounty hunters, so clearly federal regulation is necessary,” said Jonathan Drimmer, the attorney. “Bounty hunters are often unlicensed, untrained and can be felons”
Maryland does not require bounty hunters to be registered.
Moore said that she and her family were lucky, because no one was killed. But something has to be done, she said, because some family somewhere in the country will not be as lucky as hers was.
After the bounty hunters raided her home, Moore said, her daughter told her, “Mommy, we need to get a gun.”
But, Moore said, “I don’t want to have to get a gun to feel safe in my own home.”