BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A new policy adopted by the Buffalo Police Department should ensure that armed, unlicensed bounty hunters never force their way into a home in the same way as the pair did in January at a duplex occupied by two young families.
In February, News 4 Investigates first reported about the January 10th raid at the Oakdale Place duplex, which left two young families terrified and confused, as they initially thought the operation was being conducted by city police officers.
The two bounty hunters, dressed in SWAT team garb with long guns drawn, were looking for the homeowner’s brother, who had skipped a $5,000 bail bond in Pennsylvania for misdemeanors charges. Problem is that the brother was not at the duplex and he has never lived there.
Dennis J. White, one of the bounty hunters, banged on the front door of the duplex while yelling orders for the occupants to open the door.
“Open it up or we’ll kick it in,” White yelled, which was recorded on a surveillance camera on the porch.
Jake Reinhardt, the homeowner, told News 4 Investigates in February that he opened the door because he saw several city police officers outdoors.
Instead, Reinhardt was met by the two bounty hunters, who had long guns pointed at his chest, while demanding to know the whereabouts of his brother. One of the bounty hunters and at least one police officer falsely told Reinhardt that a search warrant had been executed on the duplex.
“I was terrified,” said Taylor Schmieder, Reinhardt’s fiancée. “Neither of us had any idea what was going on.”
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said the bounty hunters duped the police officers into believe they had a search warrant.
Both bounty hunters forced their way into Reinhardt’s home to search for his brother. They also searched the tenant’s apartment upstairs, creating a similar state of confusion and fear for that young family.
News 4 Investigates also discovered in February that the police department lacked any policy to guide how officers should interact with bounty hunters. This despite the 1998 on-duty death of a city police officer, who was fatally struck by a vehicle while assisting bounty hunters nab a fugitive.
About a month after News 4 Investigates first reported on the raid, the policy void has now been filled with the following requirements:
- Buffalo police officers cannot assist bail enforcement agents, more commonly known as bounty hunters, with any operation to nab a fugitive who skipped bail by missing a court appearance.
- Police officers are prohibited from being “visibly present” during any operation led by a bounty hunter that involves searching and recovering a fugitive.
- Any bounty hunter attempting to recover a fugitive in the city must notify the police department, provide all bail bond paperwork, and fill out a form that includes the agent’s name, contact information, copies of their bounty hunter and firearm licenses, along with the name and alleged location of the suspect.
In addition, the highest-ranking district officer on duty must meet with the bounty hunter to review the paperwork for accuracy and check relevant databases to determine if a warrant exists for the suspect. If a warrant exists, the Buffalo Police Department must inform the bounty hunter to leave the district while officers take over the operation to locate and arrest the fugitive.
If the police department had a policy such as this in place in January, it is very likely that the raid would have never happened. That’s because neither of the two bounty hunters had state licenses to perform the work.
In fact, according to state Department of State, there aren’t any licensed bounty hunters in New York.
White, 35, of Buffalo was indicted earlier this month on 10 misdemeanors, including criminal trespass, menacing, and endangering the welfare of children. He faces a maximum sentence of one year in jail. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
White is accused of conducting an illegal armed raid with another bounty hunter, who remains unidentified and uncharged.
The District Attorney’s Office said White “intentionally placed the victims in reasonable fear of injury or death by pointing the gun at the homeowner, his fiancé and two upstairs tenants.”
Flynn told News 4 Investigates earlier this month that he would recommend all law enforcement agencies develop an internal policy to guide how officers interact with bounty hunters to prevent situation like this from happening.
The January incident is now the subject of a federal civil lawsuit against the city, several unidentified police officers, the bounty hunters, and others.
The lawsuit accuses police officers of working jointly with the bounty hunters to illegally enter and search the duplex.
Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here.