Local bounty hunter makes arrest in Carter County

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff

Free from the confines associated with organized law enforcement, bounty hunters often do whatever it takes to bring in criminals who have skipped bail. Thursday afternoon, one local bounty hunter successfully found and arrested a bail jumper in Carter County.
   The bounty hunter, referred to as "Jones" for purposes of anonymity, was hired by the South Eastern Bail Bonds Company to bring in Richard Harless, 332 Jenkins Hollow Road.
   "He is a habitual felony traffic offender who failed to appear in Sullivan County court," Jones said. Harless faced 18 months and 10 days in jail for felony charges of driving under the influence of alcohol, driving on a revoked license, and failure to appear in court. After breaking his bail bond, Harless could now spend up to six years in confinement.
   Jones went to Harless' residence, near Journey's End in Carter County yesterday afternoon with a certified bond copy from the county clerk's office. The bounty hunter is required to have the documentation on hand in order to make an arrest. He also notified the local law enforcement before he approached the home.
   After talking with residents in neighboring trailers, Jones waited several hours for Harless to return home. According to Jones, a chase on foot insued that ended when his dog, "Max" became involved. The 300-pound German Shepard is a retired member of the Greenville Police Department.
   "He ran straight up behind the trailer and into the woods," Jones said. "When Max started to come up on him he stopped and stuck his arms up in the air."
   Jones stated that he makes approximately 100 arrests similar to Harless' each year. The former member of the U.S. Army is authorized by the federal government to make arrests as a bounty hunter in Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky.
   "Some days we'll have five or six arrests, but sometimes weeks go by and you can't pick anybody up," Jones said.
   Bounty hunters are contracted by bail bondsmen to bring in people who posted bail and then failed to appear on their court date. They are paid ten percent of the bond money after the bail jumper is returned to custody. If they have to travel to another state they often are awarded 20 percent of the bail bond.
   Bounty hunters have received some criticism for their somewhat unorthodox tactics in catching criminals. Jones stated that they are not required to be truthful with the bail jumpers, and that they often pose as deliverymen to gain access to homes.
   Local bounty hunters do not have to abide by the same rules and regulations as the Carter County Sheriff's Department or the Elizabethton Police Department, which leaves many bounty hunters susceptible to law suites.
   Jones believes unusual tactics are sometimes needed in order to even out the odds in chasing criminals on the run. "They have all of the advantages," Jones said. "They have skipped bail and know where they are going and where they have been. They die their hair and beards and everything else."
   Bounty hunters today have transformed from the old school often depicted in westerns. Jones spends most of his time researching bail jumpers on the computer, making phone calls and developing a safe strategy for capture.
   "I probably only knock down five doors a year," Jones said. "We just don't do that stuff anymore. That is just in the movies."
   However, the element of danger is still very much a part of bounty hunting. While on the job, Jones is equipped with a loaded weapon, mace, and a bullet- proof vest.