Originally created 04/03/02

Bounty hunter under scrutiny



An Aiken bounty hunter who tracked a suspect to Augusta may have his own criminal charges to face if police decide he violated Georgia law, authorities said Tuesday.

Larry Hightower, a bail recovery agent for Aid Bonding Co. in Aiken, did not notify the Richmond County Sheriff's Office before confronting suspect Marlo Jones outside an Augusta apartment complex Friday, police said. He called 911 later when the confrontation turned violent.

Mr. Hightower said he was bitten by the suspect and responded by spraying him with Chemical Mace and striking him in the head with the butt of his gun three times. Mr. Jones required 18 staples at University Hospital, and he complained to police about the attack.

On Tuesday, police interviewed Mr. Hightower and a friend, Reginald Young, who helped catch the suspect.

"The question that we have is whether he was legal in his attempts to 'arrest' this guy and bring him in," Richmond County sheriff's Maj. Ken Autry said.

Georgia law requires a bail recovery agent who enters a police jurisdiction with the intention of capturing a fugitive to notify local police before taking any action, unless it takes place in public.

Mr. Hightower said he confronted the suspect outside an apartment complex on Joy Road. He said he didn't contact police beforehand because they have never been available to assist when he did call.

"Every time we let them know, they say they can't assist us," he said. "If we would have known it was going to be like this, we would have let them know."

Scott G. Hall, the president of the Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen, helped write the state law on bail recovery agents and is the owner of Anytime Bail Bonding. The Augusta man said the law was designed to protect police and bail recovery agents.

Bounty hunters are typically in plain clothes and carry guns. If police don't know what the agents are doing and see them pointing a gun at someone, it may lead to a shootout, Mr. Hall said.

"The issue is very much about safety," he said. "We're trying to protect local law enforcement and our bail recovery agents. We're both trying to remove dangerous people off the street."

Mr. Jones, 25, was being sought for failing to appear in Aiken on several charges, including resisting arrest, Mr. Hightower said. When Richmond County deputies responded to the 911 call for help, they realized there was a bench warrant for him and took him into custody, Maj. Autry said. He is being held in the Richmond County jail.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.

What's next

Sheriff's officials are expected to talk to the district attorney's office today to decide whether criminal charges are warranted against bounty hunter Larry Hightower.