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Modern Day Bounty Hunters Keep Thugs Off the Street

By Joe Renouard

JUNE 12, 2000:  James Juliano could kick your ass! But he probably wouldn't have to ... Juliano is the most highly regarded bounty hunter in Albuquerque, and lest you think that means he is a man to be feared, well, you're right! But only if you're stupid enough to run from the law in the first place.

The average person on the street probably ranks "bounty hunter" on a professional scale somewhere between pro wrestler and Hell's Angel, and few give much thought to the role that they play in law enforcement. Yet these men and women help to get reprobates of all persuasions off the streets, including more than their fair share of violent offenders. Unlike the Old West variety, though, who chased down "wanted" men for rewards, today's bounty hunter is likely to earn his or her keep by tracking down the ubiquitous and elusive bail bond jumper.

Bail Bonding: How it Works

In most cases when people are arrested and charged with a crime, they can post bail to get themselves released from jail. The persons charged are usually required to post 10 percent of their set bail as the bonding company fee, while the bonding company covers the rest. If they post a bail bond with the assistance of a bonding company and proceed to miss their court date, they are considered fugitives. The court will keep the bail money unless the fugitive is brought back to justice, so it is in the bonding company's best interests that the fugitive be apprehended.

The law gives bonding agencies the power to find and arrest anyone who has "skipped out" on one of their bonds, and this is where the bounty hunter comes into the picture; most bonding companies prefer to pass fugitive cases along to professionals like Juliano. For their part, bounty hunters have to be pragmatic. Their job is to get bail jumpers to return for their sentencing with the least effort possible, and preferably without violence.

James Juliano: Bounty Hunter Extraordinaire

There are a few bounty hunters working in Albuquerque, but according to the bonding companies I spoke with, Juliano is the hands-down best. He does most of his work under the license of Madrid Bail Bonds, which gives him the power to arrest, to force entry if necessary, to search without a warrant, and to take fugitives across state lines. However, he can only do these things if he is working a bond company's case. Thus, he has more power than the police, who are not given this much leeway in handling defendants. He makes more than 900 arrests a year--"everything from traffic offenders to murderers"--and rarely takes a day off. So by his estimation he figures he collars about 2.5 fugitives every working day. While carrying out his duties in recent months, Juliano has discovered a few meth-labs, and he also helped crack a California murder case whose perpetrator had been on the lam for over two years.

Juliano has the skip tracing and arrest procedure down to a science: "First, I try to figure out if [the skip] was an honest mistake. If so, I try to get them to agree to come to court, and hopefully a deal can be worked out with the judge. If they run, we try to track them down." Of course, there are some dangers involved in this pursuit. As Juliano puts it, "you never know who you're going to encounter." By his count, 95 percent of his arrests are passive, 5 percent either fight or run, and around 2 percent are actually armed. He takes precautions when he's going up against dangerous people, but almost never has to be armed while on the job. Contrary to the popular image of the bounty hunter as an adrenalized maverick cowboy, Juliano goes "by the book, or not at all," and he's proud to say that, over the course of several thousand arrests, there's never been a shot fired by either side.

A Night on the Beat

Juliano invited me along for a night out on the prowl, so I could see how a bounty hunter catches his quarry in real life. He had a stack of cases to cover that particular night, but after several hours of chasing down leads and checking out addresses, we came up empty-handed. This is the reality of bounty hunting; it's a bit like fishing: Some days you catch a lot of bad guys, and some days you get skunked. So a few weeks later he was nice enough to ask me to tag along again, and I was hoping that this time we would actually bag someone ...

10:40 p.m.--The evening begins Downtown at the office of Madrid Bail Bonds where Juliano's operations are headquartered. Before he heads out, he has to verify that the fugitives on his list still have warrants. This involves a call to the Sheriff's Office across the street, where someone does a quick check of the ones that he asks about. Occasionally, he will find that a warrant has been withdrawn because the fugitive was recently picked up, or because their lawyer worked something out with the judge.

How does he prioritize his cases when there's a backlog? "If you know where someone's at right now, you go after them now. But there's a similar prioritizing of dangerous criminals, because we want to get them off the street ASAP."

Juliano often works with an assistant, Joe Davison, who has been with him for four years. Juliano and Davison are starting a bit late tonight, because Juliano has just returned from driving halfway to El Paso and back to work a case. They've managed to arrest three people today, and we're going after three more tonight.

11:05 p.m.--We leave the office and head north.

11:14 p.m.--Trailer park off Second and Montaño. We're here to pick up a man in his 60s who was caught driving with a suspended license and who has racked up "several" DWI arrests. The bail he skipped out on was a $600 cash bond, but the original bond was probably either $500 or $1,000. Juliano and Davison paid a visit to the trailer earlier in the day, but there was no answer at the door. They left a business card at the door and a note for the man to call the bonding agency. He never called.

Davison tells me that they don't usually pick up guys who are this old, but he mentions that even old folks' behavior can be pretty unpredictable. As a case in point, he says that Juliano once had a 70-year-old woman run on him and hop a fence in an attempt to get away.

We get out of the car and locate the fugitive's trailer. The lights are out, but at this hour that could simply mean that the man is sleeping. The note they put on the front door is nowhere to be found, so the man likely knows that he is being pursued. Davison steps to the front door while Juliano walks around the side of the trailer, looking for signs of life inside. Davison knocks on the door a few times, but there's no response. After a few more knocks he heads around to the front of the trailer and trains his flashlight on the main room inside the window. At this point Juliano gives a loud whisper from around the corner, and when we join him he says that he heard a toilet flush and saw a light go on and off very briefly. He gives a loud rap on one of the windows and says with authority: "Open the door, Mr. ----. Bail bonding agents, we have a warrant for your arrest." After several moments of silence, he knocks again and repeats the plea: "Mr. ----, we're bail agents and we need to talk to you. If you don't open the door we'll have to force entry. Don't make us do that." Silence continues as the two peer inside the trailer's windows with their flashlights. They don't see any movement, so Juliano raps on the window a third time and says: "Come to the door, Mr. ----, or we'll have to force entry. Don't play these games with us." Once again there is no response, so Juliano and Davison locate a low window and pry it open. Juliano stacks some tires beneath the window and climbs in.

Davison and I follow close behind, and as I get my bearings in the dark room, a light is switched on in the hallway and I hear Juliano lecturing someone around the corner. "Come on, Mr. ----, we're bail agents, we have a warrant for your arrest. Get your clothes on so we can get going." When I reach the next room I see a pretty pathetic scene: a shirtless old man in his boxer shorts, looking weak and scared. It turns out he was hiding in the bathroom with the lights out. We escort him into the next room, where Juliano stands by him as he puts on his clothes. While the old man is getting dressed, Juliano takes the opportunity to chastise him for pretending he wasn't home. "You're too old to be playing these games, Mr. ----. Did you think we were kidding when we said we'd come in?" The man has the resigned look of someone who's been through this routine many times in his life. "Do you have any weapons on you?" "No, sir." Juliano gives him a look of mild disgust and says, "This is like arresting my grandfather. When I climbed in the window I thought I'd see him come around the corner with a gun."

After the man gets dressed, Juliano leads him out the front door and tells him, "You'll probably want to turn your lights out. You're not coming back here anytime soon." He asks the man to put out his cigarette, then cuffs him with his hands in the front. No Miranda warning is read, because the fugitive has already been arrested for the initial crime. The next person he's going to speak to will be the judge who's hearing his case.

He is placed in the back seat of the car, and on the drive Downtown he's pretty candid about his problems. He tells us that he was caught driving with a license that was suspended because he had "seven or eight" DWIs, and he freely admits that he has been in and out of jail since he was a kid. As a final reflection on his fate, the old man mumbles, "At least I was out for Easter, but all I did was hide."

11:42 p.m.--Back Downtown, Juliano leads the man across the street to book him at the Sheriff's Office. Only licensed officers and bail agents can go into the booking area, so I follow Davison back into the Madrid office where he plans to verify some other warrants. He tells me that it takes 15 to 20 minutes to book someone at night, so we've got some time to kill.

12:10 a.m.--Back on the road, this time heading east.

12:23 a.m.--We arrive at a residence near the intersection of Lead and University. The man they are here to pick up was arrested on a battery charge after beating his girlfriend. Ain't love grand?

We approach the house, and from the driveway it appears that there is a television on inside. Davison knocks on the front door a few times, and eventually a young woman answers. Once again Juliano gets right to the point: "Hi. Sorry to bother you so late. We're bail recovery agents, looking for ----." The woman tells us that she hasn't seen the man in question for several months, and that he was originally arrested because he abused her. "Do you have any idea where he might be?" "No, not really. I haven't seen him since they took him in." Given the late hour, she is quite cooperative, but Juliano and Davison have a job to do. Juliano tells her that, although he realizes it's late, and that she was the victim in the original crime, we have to come inside the house and verify that the fugitive isn't here because this is the address that he listed on the bond. The woman agrees to let us in, and Juliano and Davison enter with flashlights in hand.

There's a mattress laid out in the front room with a 30-something man and a young boy sleeping on it. The man on the mattress is similar to the description we have of the man we're looking for, so Juliano asks him a few questions. "What's your name, sir?" "What's your date of birth?" "How old are you?" The man answers in kind, apparently to Juliano's satisfaction, although both Juliano and Davison note aloud that he looks a lot like the fugitive. They proceed to do a thorough sweep of the house with flashlights in hand, looking through closets, under beds, and behind furniture. This particular house has a cavernous basement, so the search takes several minutes. When they get back to the front room, Juliano fires off the same questions to the man on the mattress. "What's your date of birth? How old are you?" The man gives the same answers as before, leading Juliano to believe that he's not the one we're looking for.

We leave the house and Juliano gives the young woman a number to call if she hears any information about the fugitive. She agrees to do so, and we head back out to the car.

12:48 a.m.--On the road again. Juliano and Davison couldn't verify the last warrant on the list, so we're going to call it a night.

1:02 a.m.--Back at the office. Some of the day's cases may not have panned out, but Juliano and Davison have four arrests to their credit today. Juliano has to come back at 8 a.m. tomorrow to explain to the judges why this new batch of offenders was arrested, so we part ways in the parking lot adjacent to Madrid Bail Bonds.

The Blood, Guts, Mayhem Chronicles Continue ...

Although he goes home at the end of each day, Juliano's job never really ends. If he's not chasing down tips or working a case for a bonding agency, he's making one of several daily trips to the courthouse, and sometimes it seems like he has more work than any one man could handle. Such are the drawbacks of a good reputation: no sooner does he finish a case than the phone rings and he's given a new group of bounties to hunt. The night that I hit the road with Juliano and Davison may not have been rife with violent confrontations, but on any given day a bounty hunter never knows what he'll come across.

I ran into him a week or two later, and he took some time out to tell me about his most recent arrest. He and Davison got a tip that an accused murderer was going to leave town, so they went to pick him up under the "warrantless arrest" statute, which allows dangerous arrestees to be collared if there is a reasonable fear that they will leave town. But this guy wasn't just accused of murder; he had killed a rival by shooting him "30 or 40 times" and was on his way to blowing up the body with hand grenades before he was taken in by the police. Wisely placing the defendant in the category of "armed and dangerous," Juliano and Davison showed up at his house in the middle of the night in the hope that he would be too tired to resist arrest. But when Juliano put the first cuff on him, the man's other hand went for his belt where he had a loaded pistol at the ready. Fortunately, Juliano and Davison were able to overpower the man and get the gun away from him before they cuffed him and took him in.

Now, this is just one guy's opinion, but I don't think that most folks would go out of their way to take down a wanted killer, even if there was a lot of money in it. Nevertheless, while hanging out with Juliano and Davison I learned the value of having such professionals on the beat, because without them we'd have a lot more of the armed and dangerous folks to worry about. Just be sure to watch your back if you're one of them ...

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