A recent incident in St Petersburg, Florida has thrust bail bondsman into the public eye after the tragic shooting of Vonceia Welch.
The 29 year old woman was accidentally shot in the head by bounty hunters in pursuit of fugitive Deveon Stokes. Stokes had skipped out on his hearing for possession of cocaine and hunters were dispatched to bring him to justice.
Local law enforcement stated that they have a positive relationship with bail bond agencies in the area. According to Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, they play a crucial role in the local criminal justice system.
However, for the public and for law enforcement alike, the shooting has led many to believe that limitations on roles that bounty hunters are allowed to play need to be revisited.
Armando Roche, president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, believes that the incident is not the result of a faulty industry but of faulty training. He explained that when he teaches students about the trade, he starts with a list of dont’s.
“Don’t wave a gun in somebody’s face.” is chief among his list of don’ts said Roche. He encourages his students not to carry a gun at all when apprehending a fugitive unless they believe it to be necessary for their own protection.
As of now, no one has been charged in the shooting, and police are still attempting to understand exactly what happened. Witnesses and testimony from the hunters and victims at the scene paint a confusing picture. Stokes was in a drive through when he was approached by bounty hunters with guns drawn. Stokes attempted to drive away, apparently jostling the hunters and causing the gun to go off.
Regardless of what happened, it is important for hunters everywhere to weigh the inherent risks of carrying a gun in pursuit of a fugitive. As law enforcement and lawmakers alike start to reconsider the role bounty hunters have to play in capturing criminals, bounty hunters have a responsibility to consider the safety of innocent bystanders alongside the task of capturing their elusive marks.