Bondsman busy holding people accountable
Toby Karnes, owner of Eagle Bonds in McPherson, is inside Marion County Jail three or four times a week.
That’s not to mention in the jails of other counties where he bonds people out of jail.
He is approved to work in Dickenson, Geary, Marion, and Morris Counties.
“I’m averaging about 60,000 miles per year on my car right now,” Karnes said.
What Karnes would like people to know is that a bondsmen’s job is to release people from jail, which keeps the population down. That, in turn, keeps taxes down because the public doesn’t have to feed and house the suspects.
“We also hold them accountable so justice is served,” he said. “I’m going to say that’s the most important, that we hold everyone accountable.”
Karnes said bondsmen exist to help people and give them an opportunity to keep their jobs and get their affairs in order.
“It’s always easier to fight their case from the outside,” he said. “Not everybody who gets arrested is a criminal. We’re all human, we make mistakes. Bondmen are here to help. We’re not here to judge anybody.”
A bondsman also is able to choose who he will work with.
“As far as who I will and who I won’t, it depends a lot on whether I’ve had a bad experience with them,” Karnes said.
Another consideration is whether the inmate has a co-signer with steady employment and sufficient income to pay the bond in the event the inmate fails to appear for court.
In his 17 years of working as a bondsman, most of his customers have were charged with driving while suspended, driving under the influence, domestic battery, forgery, and similar offenses.
“We’ve done a lot of aggravated charges,” he said. “Any time you have an aggravated charge, that goes into a felony charge. We’ve also gone into involuntary manslaughter.”
This isn’t what he expected to do with his life. Steven Owens, owner of Owens Bond Company, was looking for someone to grow his business.
“Then I took the steps to become licensed,” he said.
Bondsmen must have insurance licenses as well as a license from the state attorney general’s office.
Another requirement is to pass a criminal background check.
“Once you are licensed you have to go to each jurisdiction and put your credentials in to get permission to write bonds in that county,” he said.
Bondsmen are required to take eight hours of continuing education provided by Kansas Bail Agents Association a year.
Most of his clients follow court orders to show up when required, but sometimes bondsmen bet on the wrong person. Then they become bounty hunters.
“If somebody misses court and they don’t voluntarily resolve it, we have to go find that person,” Karnes said. “We’ve traveled throughout the United States. We went to Las Vegas last year. We have to go to where they are.”
Sometimes the person they are hunting is dangerous and the arrest is intense.
“Sometimes we have somebody who is a violent offender or involved with gangs,” he said. “On average they will run and hide from you all day long, but once you find them, it’s roll over and play dead. Most of the time, it’s non-confrontational.”
It’s important to treat people well, even if the bondsman has been searching for the suspect for weeks, he said.
“If that person escalates the situation we escalate,” he said.
But once the suspect stops escalating, so does the bondsman, Karnes said.
Some states require an out-of-state bounty hunter to have an in-state partner with them to arrest an absconder. The in-state bounty hunter then turns the absconder over to them.
“We are not law enforcement and can’t impersonate law enforcement — that’s a big no-no,” Karnes said. “We wear a vest that says ‘fugitive recovery’ or ‘bondsman’ or ‘bail bondsman,’ but it does not say police.”
Aside from the primary residence of the person they bonded out of jail, they need a search warrant to enter someone’s home looking for the suspect.
There are two exceptions to the rule, though.
When someone signs a bond agreement, they sign a statement that their primary residence can be searched without a warrant.
No search warrant is needed if the bondsman sees the defendant inside a home.
“If I see him through the window, I can make entry,” he said.
Bursting into someone’s home on a hunch that the suspect might be there would be not only unprofessional, but also illegal, he said.
Karnes was disappointed to learn about two Wichita bounty hunters being arrested for their behavior while tracking a felon.