BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Erie County District Attorney said he believes Buffalo police officers were duped by an unlicensed bounty hunter who claimed he had a search warrant to conduct a raid in January of a duplex south of downtown.
Even a Buffalo police officer told the homeowner, Jake Reinhardt, that a search warrant had been secured.
“They have a search warrant. They’re going to go through the house,” the unidentified police officer told Reinhardt, who constantly demanded either the police or one of the two bounty hunters present the document.
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said: “Now granted, should Buffalo Police Department have like verified that or checked it out? Yeah, maybe.”
As a result, Flynn said all police departments across the state, not just Buffalo Police Department, should have policies to check the identities and licenses of anyone claiming to be a bounty hunter.
“I would just recommend that they have some type of internal policy as to dealing with bounty hunters when you are notified that a bounty hunter is going to execute on the bail,” Flynn said.
News 4 Investigates reported in February that the Buffalo Police Department lacks specific policies or procedures guiding how officers should interact with bounty hunters. This despite the 1998 on-duty death of an officer in who was hit by a vehicle while assisting bounty hunters nab a suspect.
In the January incident on Oakdale Place, two bounty hunters barged their way into Reinhardt’s duplex, with guns drawn, and searched his home and the home of his upstairs tenants. The suspect they were looking for, Reinhardt’s brother, was not there, and he has never lived there.
Dennis J. White, 35, of Buffalo was indicted 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.
He is accused of conducting an armed raid with another, unknown bounty hunter around midnight on January 10.
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.”
Three children were home at the time of the raid and Reinhardt’s fiancée was pregnant.
Flynn said White is charged with misdemeanors because they have not recovered any of the guns to determine if they are real and function. If found to be real and operable, Flynn said the incident could rise to a felony.
Buffalo police officers were present at the raid and both families mistakenly thought the raid was a police operation.
One of the upstairs tenants, Casey Carminati, told News 4 Investigates in February that she looked out the window and saw at least four police vehicles and officers standing outside.
“But I never thought that it would be a bounty hunter,” Carminati said.
The incident is now the subject of a civil lawsuit in federal court against the city, several unidentified police officers, the bounty hunters and a bond company.
The complaint states that “Buffalo Police officers entered the home without probable cause and without a warrant” and that they “continued to assist, aid, and abet the joint operation.”
“It’s remarkable,” said the plantiffs’ attorney, Anthony Rupp.
“I have never seen anything like it in almost 30 years of practicing law.”
Flynn told News 4 Investigates that he was fine that police officers were present at the raid to ensure the task did not “go off the rails.”
“No one from the Buffalo Police Department did anything criminal here at all,” Flynn said.
When Flynn was pressed about an officer who entered the front door of the duplex into a common area connected to the porch and another officer shined a flash light into a room connected to the back door, he said they did not cross a criminal line that would go against the Fourth Amendment that prohibits unreasonable search and seizures.
“I mean, did a foot go over the line? Yeah, a foot went over the line but they didn’t pursue into the home the way [the bounty hunters] did,” Flynn said.
“So, in my opinion, it did not cross that criminal line.”
Flynn said much of the powers afforded to legitimate bounty hunters come from an 1872 Supreme Court case that ruled bounty hunters were a part of the law enforcement system.
“The statutory provisions regarding bounty hunters, again could they be clarified more in order to exactly state what the policies are? Flynn said.
“Yeah, sure. I got no problem with that at all. But again, I think that the underlying foundation here and premise here that you can’t just bust into a third party’s home is pretty well established obviously, because I have enough to go forward with these charges.”
Flynn is vice president of the District Attorneys Association for the State of New York. He said he will consider pushing the proposal that all police department institute policies for how officers interact with bounty hunters.
“I can make recommendations to local law enforcement agencies and heads of local law enforcement organizations,” Flynn said.
“That’s something we can definitely look at in the future.”