BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- They were roused from bed at midnight by the “scary” yelling of their landlord downstairs in the duplex.
“Don’t! No! Please don’t! Don’t go up there! They’re my tenants! They have nothing to do with this!” the couple in the upstairs apartment said they heard him scream.
News 4 Investigates was first to report about the terrifying encounter the landlord Jake Reinhardt, his pregnant fiancée and 3-year-old daughter had in January with armed bounty hunters. The men were searching for his brother, who skipped on a $5,000 bail bond for three misdemeanors in Pennsylvania. But his brother was not there and has never lived in the house.
Now, for the first time, upstairs tenants Ryan Harrington and his fiancée Casey Carminati talk about their own harrowing experiences with two of the armed bounty hunters.
The bounty hunters had already searched sections of Reinhardt’s home before spotting a door that leads to stairs to an attic and a rarely used door for the tenant’s apartment.
Carminati was holding their son, who is almost 2, but her 5-year-old daughter was still asleep.
Harrington remained in the bedroom, where he could hear commotion downstairs.
Carminati said she looked out the front window and noticed several Buffalo police vehicles and officers standing in front of the duplex on Oakdale Place less than three miles south of downtown.
She could still hear Reinhardt downstairs yelling, “Where is your search warrant? What are you doing here?”
“Like, I’m starting to put two and two together,” she said.
She got Harrington and told him, “Something bad is happening.”
Was this some type of police sting? Someone hurt?
Harrington said someone pounded and pulled on the door with such force that it began to snap and deepen an existing crack near the deadbolt.
“Open the door! We’re going to kick it in! I’m not playing around!” one of the men yelled.
“We actually said, ‘Please don’t come in, we don’t know who you are! We have two children!’” Carminati said.
Harrington said he unlocked the deadbolt to release the pressure so the door would not snap, and both men barreled in, guns drawn, without permission or a search warrant.
They were two bounty hunters, even though the couple didn’t know at the time.
“I honestly believed it was a home invasion,” Harrington said.
One of the men asked if they had any weapons, the couple said.
“And we’re like, what? We’re like, who are you?” Carminati said.
“They never once explained who they were. They never told us who they were looking for until the last minute when they were about to leave.”
They both said one of the bounty hunters pointed a gun at the bed where Carminati’s daughter was asleep, as he continued to scout the room.
Harrington said the other man pointed his long-gun at his fiancée, who still held their son.
“Put the baby down and put your hands up,” the man ordered, Harrington said.
“So, me hearing that, I’m losing it … what do I do right now? Are these law enforcement? Are they not? What do I do? Do I defend my home, do I defend my family?”
Both said they were confused, too. If these men were not police, they wondered why uniformed officers idly stood outside to watch at least three armed men search two separate homes with young children inside?
“We have rights,” Carminati said. “Our rights were absolutely invaded.”
While Harrington thought the men were armed invaders, Carminati still wondered if they could be police officers. But they said if the men weren’t police, then who would protect them if the Buffalo Police Department were already at the scene letting all of this happen?
“Who was I supposed to call at this point?” Harrington said.
“The police? 9-1-1? Like, what do I do? I just knew they were outside so I didn’t bother calling.”
Both families have already filed a civil suit in federal court against the city, the police officers at the scene, the unknown bounty hunters and the Bail Shop LLC in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
Anthony Rupp, their attorney, told News 4 Investigates that it is bad enough the police idly stood by watching the armed bounty hunter’s search the landlord’s home.
“The most ridiculous thing to me is that they stood by and watched the bounty hunters go up to the upstairs apartment,” Rupp said.
“I mean, this is a separate apartment, a separate dwelling unit. It’s separated by a door and a deadbolt on it. They broke down the door. Smashed it in, it had to be replaced. And then held another family at gunpoint.”
Jeff Rinaldo, captain for the Buffalo Police Department, said this was a “unique situation” in that the bounty hunters requested police officers to be present while they attempted to take someone into custody. He stressed that none of the officers entered the home or told anyone in the house that they had to open the doors or come out.
“It’s something that we will look at internally to determine if there should be some type of specific policy or procedure put in place for this,” Rinaldo said.
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office continues to investigate the raid and declined to comment.
News 4’s reporting of the raid also caught the attention of Buffalo’s Common Council president.
On Feb. 16, Common Council President Darius Pridgen asked the police department to provide members with any policies it might have on bounty hunters, and he asked city attorneys to investigate state and federal laws that govern bounty hunters.
“I want to make sure bounty hunters have the same level of accountability when they’re entering a person’s private residence,” he said at the council meeting.
News 4 Investigates has already discovered that the police department does not have any policies on how officers should interact with bounty hunters, despite the 1998 death of Robert McLellan, a Buffalo police officer who died on duty after being struck by a vehicle on the Kensington Expressway while assisting bounty hunters chase a fugitive.
Meanwhile, once Harrington and Carminati finally figured out who the men were and why they were they, both felt stunned that the police officers let them do this.
“I needed help that night and they were helping them guys,” Harrington said.
“That’s exactly what I felt like. I didn’t bother calling 9-1-1 because of them being on our property already. That’s the only information I had, that police are outside. And that is not okay. I had nobody to call that night.”
Since the incident, Harrington said life has not reached normal yet. He gets startled by noises at night or by a horn from a car driving by. Before they go to bed, he is obsessive about making sure all the doors are locked.
“We’re scarred,” he said. “The aftermath. It’s different now.”