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Would-be bounty hunters not backed up by Rhode Island law

6-12-2009 Rhode Island:

PROVIDENCE — The two “bounty hunters” who tangled with the police and ended up under arrest after they plied their new trade in Woonsocket by allegedly forcing their way into a woman’s apartment and handcuffing her have a problem with state law, the attorney general’s office said Thursday.

The problem? There is no law authorizing people to act as bounty hunters in Rhode Island, according to Michael J. Healey, spokesman for Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch.

“They’re vigilantes,” Healey said. “There is folklore about what bounty hunters are and what they do. These guys are not bounty hunters, because there is no law regulating bounty hunters in Rhode Island. They are subject to the same laws as everybody else — one of which is not breaking into and forcing your way into somebody’s home without the tenant’s or owner’s consent.”

Brandon Johnson, 36, and Ronald Cervantes, 39, both of 620 Elm St., Woonsocket, surrendered to the Woonsocket police Tuesday and were charged with assault and breaking and entering.

Johnson and Cervantes told Woonsocket Detective Thomas Calouro that they decided to start a company to apprehend fugitives. Calouro said they went to an online source called and paid $235, for which they received bounty hunter badges and identification cards.

Then, according to the police, they went to the home of Rebecca Ball, 18, of 90 Blackstone St., Woonsocket, took her into custody and delivered her to the headquarters of the Cumberland police, where she was wanted on a warrant for failing to appear in court on an assault charge.

Johnson was released on bail pending a future court appearance.

Prosecutors, however, sought to have Cervantes held without bail because of his past criminal record and that he has been charged with being a probation violator.

But Superior Court Magistrate Patrick Burke granted bail — setting it at $10,000 with surety — meaning Cervantes would have to post $1,000 in cash to gain his release. It was not known whether he made bail.

Healey said Cervantes was convicted in 1991 of sexual assault in Westerly, after which he received a five-year suspended sentence. In 2002, Cervantes was convicted of first-degree sexual assault, also a Westerly case, he said.

In the latter case, Cervantes pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 20 years, with 8 to serve. Tracey Zeckhausen, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said Cervantes was released on April 5, 2008, when credited with good-conduct time.

The sexual-assault conviction marked him as a sex offender who is required to register with the police department that has jurisdiction over his house or apartment.

Woonsocket police Lt. Eugene Jalette said Cervantes has complied with the registration law.

His next court appearance is scheduled for June 23 in Superior Court.

As for Ball, the woman who was handcuffed and delivered to the Cumberland police, it turns out that the warrant on which she was sought required her to pay $93 after her case was adjudicated.

“That’s a minor fee,” Healey said. “The approach they took was just a bit out of proportion, to understate it.” ..Source.. by Thomas J. Morgan, Journal Staff Writer

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