Failing to rein in bounty hunters left a Palm Springs man dead

California allows an unknown number of armed, unregulated bounty hunters to search for and arrest people accused of breaching their bail. And lawmakers have repeatedly ignored or rejected calls for reform.

Because of their ruthless inaction, David Spann of Palm Springs died.

The state requires licenses for cosmetologistssmog check technicians and furniture upholsterersamong dozens of other professions.

But not for bounty hunters, people with quasi-official authority to hunt down and arrest criminal suspects on behalf of bail agents.

This terrible failure must be resolved before anyone else dies.

There are a few rules for bounty hunters, in theory. They are supposed to take classes on arrest and bail work. But in essence, anyone over the age of 18 with no criminal record can do the job. Amazingly, the state even allows people with criminal backgrounds to do the job – if they get a bail bond agent license.

As the Spann shooting made clear, the lack of enforcement means that people with criminal histories (and without a bail agent’s license) work as bounty hunters, unsupervised.

The bounty hunter who broke down Spann’s door and shot him, Fabian Hector Herrera, had been convicted of violent crimes in Riverside and Los Angeles counties, as reported in a detailed investigative article. last week by Christopher Damien of The Desert Sun. And he didn’t have a bond agent’s license.

Herrera was charged with murder and other crimes.

Without a licensing process, California regulators have no way of knowing how many bounty hunters are completing the required training, or how many of them are criminals.

Indeed, the state doesn’t even know how many bounty hunters there are, period. The California Insurance Commissioner admitted as much in a 2018 report.

All of this helps explain why nothing stopped Herrera from being tasked with finding Spann in the spring of 2021. Jose Navarro, the bail agent who hired Herrera for the job, said he didn’t know of the criminal record. of man.

This record, of course, would have come up during a background check for a state license.

California (over)regulates so much it’s long been a national punchline. But efforts to address the bounty hunter problem have failed or stalled for years, despite pleas from some lawmakers and even people in the surety industry themselves.

A 1999 law required bounty hunters to take the same course as security guards, which meant background checks and criminal record checks. But this law expired in 2010.

In 2017, the lead investigator for the agency that licenses bail agents, the state Department of Insurance, publicly stated that bounty hunters “remain unregulated” in California. His department has recognized this as a problem and has supported new rules.

Lawmakers did nothing.

The staggering lack of knowledge and oversight extends to the local level. After Herrera and his mother – you read that right – broke into Spann’s house, they held him at gunpoint and called the police for help.

Palm Springs police officers who came later told a sheriff’s investigator that they initially thought Herrera was another officer. It made sense: Like a child in costume, the bounty hunter wore a badge and vest that said “agent.”

And at least one officer wasn’t quite sure what bounty hunters do.

“I had no idea they could come in like that,” Officer Emmi Kramer told a colleague shortly after the shooting, as captured on their body cameras. They were talking about the fact that Herrera had forced the door.

In fact, bounty hunters cannot “enter like that”. Riverside County prosecutors said Herrera had no legal right to break into the home.

Now Spann’s family is suing Palm Springs and its police department, claiming they have no policy for dealing with bounty hunters. The city attorney said the lawsuit was “without merit.” But a court will decide that — and the city could face a costly settlement or judgment.

While the police bear some blame, so do lawmakers who have continually failed to pass reforms.

The state allows bail agents, people who hire bounty hunters. But we also don’t know if it works well.

Navarro also has a criminal record for drug charges, but was granted a bond agent’s license in 2013 by the Department of Insurance. This is legal in californiaif the insurance commissioner gives written permission.

At the time he was killed, Spann was only facing a misdemeanor charge, breaching a restraining order, and he had not fled or appeared in court. There was no warrant for his arrest, but the bail agency he used to stay out of jail said he disabled a required tracking device.

The string of failures that brought Herrera to Spann’s house doesn’t stop at bounty hunters, bail agents and lawmakers ignoring the issues.

The reason bounty hunters exist in the first place is the antiquated notion of cash bail. There are growing calls to eliminate it, instead of having the courts determine which defendants should be jailed before trial due to public safety or flight risks.

Thanks to $10 million of lobbying by the bond industry and a flawed plan to replace it, California voters rejected a proposal in 2020 to end cash bail. Lawmakers are still pushing for an overhaul, and it could end up happening.

But first, the legislature must fix what we have. If bounty hunters are going to work in California, they must be licensed, trained, and screened for their background and psychological fitness for the job.

And oversight should be entrusted to a law enforcement agency, likely the state Department of Justice.

Currently, as far as bounty hunters are regulated, it is by the state Department of Insurance. This is because surety bonds are financial arrangements backed by insurance policies.

But an insurance commissioner is not the right person to rein in bounty hunters, some of whom act like armed vigilantes.

A bill introduced last week by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, requires bounty hunters (officially “bail fugitive recoverers”) to obtain licenses and undergo training first about the bail system and arrests. AB 2043 deserves speedy hearings and serious consideration.

The change of this broken system must come now. May David Spann be his last victim.

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