Bondsmen charged in Howard Co. home raid

Prosecutors say pair had wrong apartment

March 05, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Two Baltimore bail bondsmen are scheduled to appear in Howard County District Court today for a preliminary hearing on charges that they terrorized five non-English-speaking Howard County residents in December. Experts said the charges are unusual because the bond industry is usually given wide latitude in cases that involve unlawful search and seizure.

Everett Ambush Chambers, 26, and Darnell Anthony Brown, 29, burst into an Ellicott City apartment on Town & Country Boulevard after midnight Dec. 19 to recover people who failed to show up for court in Baltimore County after being bonded by Prestige Bail Bonds, charging documents state.

At issue is whether the bondsmen were in the right apartment that night. Their lawyer, Kenneth S. Ward, insists they were, but Howard prosecutors assert the bondsmen had the wrong location.

"The people they were looking for were not in that apartment," Howard County Assistant State's Attorney Danielle Duclaux said.

After pushing their way into the apartment, the bondsmen used handguns to intimidate the five residents, watched television and ate food until about 2:40 a.m., when they drove off with one of the female residents, court papers state.

"If true, these allegations show the men went beyond the special allowances that permit bondsmen to act as bounty hunters," said Doug Colbert, a law professor at the University of Maryland who has researched the bond industry.

During a police interview soon after the incident, Chambers and Brown acknowledged that they were in the Town & Country Boulevard apartment that night, according to charging documents.

All charges denied

Both men have worked for Prestige Bail Bonds for at least three years. Ward said his clients deny all 28 charges against each of them, which range from kidnapping to armed robbery to first-degree assault.

"They were doing their job that the state of Maryland licensed them to do because there is a need for bail bondsmen," Ward said. "They didn't do anything that violated Article 27 [of the Maryland Code], which governs bondsmen. They didn't do anything incorrect."

The Howard County charges occur as the General Assembly considers legislation that would weaken the court system's dependence upon bondsmen by requiring that defendants be offered the option of paying a refundable 10 percent bail directly to the court instead of the nonrefundable 10 percent bond fee.

Bondsmen are often perceived to be above the law, Colbert said, so police and prosecutors usually hesitate to pursue criminal charges against them.

"These are serious allegations, and they merit full consideration for prosecution," Colbert said of the Howard case. Colbert called the statement of charges against the bondsmen one of the most detailed he has seen.

The statement describes a nearly three-hour ordeal that began when two men forced their way into the apartment of Maria Lourdes Gonzales-Lara and ended when the pair took her and later released her in Baltimore County.

Ward, the attorney representing the bondsmen, said Gonzales-Lara and another person in the apartment used aliases that matched the names of bail jumpers on bonds from Prestige Bail Bonds. He said the bondsmen did not turn the woman over to police at Baltimore County's Wilkens Precinct station in Catonsville because they realized they did not have the right paperwork.

The two bondsmen repeatedly asked for Doris, Victor and Danny before handcuffing some of the residents, ransacking the apartment and refusing to leave, according to court documents.

While in the apartment, the men ordered resident Andrea Torres-Flores to make them food and watched television while they ate. They also stole about $500 from the five people who lived there, according to the criminal complaint.

Brown told police the two were waiting for a bail jumper to arrive at the apartment, according to the charging documents.

Chambers wore a police T-shirt and a silver badge around his neck, and carried a black handgun Dec. 19, Gonzales-Lara told police.

Chambers and Brown pointed handguns at the residents, and one pressed a gun to the head of Marcelino Sarmiento-Izaguirre, according to the statement of charges.

Other criminal cases

Chambers was charged in 1997 in Baltimore County with impersonating a police officer, unlawful use of a handgun and making a false statement to an officer, court papers show. He received probation before judgment in that case.

Both bondsmen have faced other criminal charges in the past in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, but all the cases were either dropped or pleaded out to lesser charges.

Neither Chambers nor Brown has faced charges as a bondsman, their lawyer said. Both men still work as bondsmen.

S. Dennis Hunter, president of the National Association of Pretrial Service Agencies, said the bond industry is devoid of standards, which leads to problems.

"Most bondsmen are not upper-class citizens," he said. "They aren't trained officers. They aren't ex-cops. They're usually cop wannabes, which adds to the problem."

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