[Pnews] Bounty Hunters Are a Lethal Weapon in a Justice System Corrupted by Money
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 19 12:10:26 EDT 2019
Bounty Hunters Are a Lethal Weapon in a Justice System Corrupted by Money
Shaun King - August 18, 2019
_Today, I live_ in Brooklyn, but I didn’t grow up in New York. I’m
country. I grew up in a small Kentucky town and was a part of a church
that taught us a verse from the Bible that says “the love of money is
the root of all evil.” For my whole life, even as my faith has
struggled, I’ve held on to that verse and have believed that wherever we
find evil, we’ll always find a money trail somewhere nearby.
And I have long since believed that profit, jobs, and wealth are at the
center of the explosive growth of America’s mass incarceration crisis –
and not just with jails, prisons, and police, but with the offshoot
industries that survive and thrive on the back of our crooked legal
system. One of these crooked industries involves bounty hunters, and
there’s been an incredible injustice with a group of them killing an
innocent man in Tennessee and avoiding any real punishment for it.
Jalen Johnson Milan was a beloved 24-year-old father of three young
children in Clarksville, Tennessee, about an hour north of Nashville.
Two years ago, on a spring evening in April of 2017, Jalen and some
buddies, including his cousin, Jaden Hogan, who was driving, took a trip
to the local Walmart where they ended up parking next to a car that had
a drug informant inside named Kirsten Mahon.
When I say “drug informant,” am I right that your first assumption is
that this is about to be a story on a police sting gone awry? You’d
think so, but this was something altogether different.
According to surveillance video
from the Walmart, within seconds of pulling into that parking spot,
their car was surrounded by seven men who frantically yelled from every
side, telling Jalen and his friends to get out of their car. The seven
men had guns drawn. One of the men who surrounded the vehicle smashed
open a window. Freaking out, Jaden Hogan, the driver, backed out of the
parking spot, and then mashed the gas to the floor, so that he could get
them all away from these men with guns.
They didn’t know if it was a gang, robbers, or police surrounding them,
but it was clear their lives were in danger. Put yourself in that
position, and imagine your car being surrounded by seven rough-looking
dudes with guns drawn who did not identify themselves as police. What
would you do?
When Jaden sped away, two of the seven men who surrounded the car,
Joshua Young and Roger West Jr., unloaded their guns, firing shot after
Jaden, the driver, was hit in the neck, and Jalen was mortally wounded,
with a bullet ripping through his heart and lungs. Investigators later
tested every bullet at the scene and determined that they all appeared
to have been fired by Young and West, according to reporting by The Leaf
Chronicle, a newspaper in Clarksville that has provided consistent
coverage of the case.
Those seven men got into their car, and for nearly seven miles they
chased their prey through Clarksville. Jaden Hogan, the wounded driver,
frantically called 911 from the parking lot before the chase was even
fully underway, telling the operator that they had been surrounded and
shot by a group of men, and that they were fleeing for their lives,
speeding down a local road. But here’s the weird thing: The shooters
also called 911 saying that they were in an emergency situation as they
claimed to be chasing down a local drug dealer named William Ellis.
With both parties on the phone with 911, one of the dispatch operators
advised the injured men to pull their car over and surrender to the men
who just shot them. But remember this: The shooters weren’t police
officers. They weren’t FBI officials or from the Drug Enforcement
Administration. They hadn’t been to anybody’s police academy, and they
damn sure weren’t supervised by any serious government agency.
They were a ragtag group of bounty hunters and bail bondsmen who were
searching for a man named William Ellis who owed them a lot of money
because he had skipped bail on two different occasions — leaving debts
of thousands of dollars to the bail bondsmen. They had paid a desperate
local sex worker, Kirsten Mahon, who struggled with drug addiction, to
set up a fake drug deal with Ellis so that they could perform what they
called a routine “snatch and grab,” possibly squeeze some money out of
him, and then turn him over to authorities. This is routine work for
bail bondsmen and bounty hunters.
Except William Ellis wasn’t in the car they had shot and chased; Kirsten
Mahon later testified that she tipped Ellis off in advance that people
were looking for him. By the time Jaden Hogan finally pulled his car
over, his cousin Jalen was already dead. The bullets recklessly fired at
the car seven miles prior had ripped his insides all up. The bounty
hunters and bail bondsmen would eventually swear under oath that the men
in the car shot at them too, but not a single gun was found on their
prey, not a single shell casing found in their car, and investigators
determined that every bullet fired appeared to be fired at the victims —
not from them.
Nine days later, county prosecutors threw the book at the bounty hunters
and bail bondsmen — charging them with a slew of crimes ranging from
first-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated kidnapping, reckless
endangerment, and damn near every other charge you can think of. It took
two years for the case to finally come to trial. It was complicated as
hell with 50 different witnesses, hundreds of pieces of evidence — and
two of the seven defendants had flipped, agreeing to testify against the
other five. Altogether, the five remaining men faced a combined 80 charges.
In the end, earlier this month, a jury found the five men
not guilty on 79 different charges — only convicting one man, Joshua
Young, with recklessly firing his gun in the Walmart parking lot. He
might not even go to jail.
Listen, I’m a prison abolitionist. I’d like to see the whole legal
system torn down and rebuilt from scratch. But how in hell a group of
pissed off bounty hunters and bail bondsmen can kill an innocent man, in
what at very best has to be described as a case of mistaken identity,
and get away with it, is beyond me. Defense attorneys basically
suggested 101 conspiracy theories, effectively planting doubts in the
mind of the jury, that William Ellis really was in that car and
disappeared somewhere — even though nobody ever saw any such thing
happen. The attorneys also suggested that the victims really did have
guns and fired them, even though no evidence whatsoever showed such a
Their ploy worked — in great part, I believe, because the jurors treated
the bail bondsmen and bounty hunters like they would have treated law
enforcement officers, giving them respect and deferring to their storyline.
In the end, it’s gun violence run amok. Jalen Milan was one of the
nearly 40,000 people
<https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/us/gun-deaths.html> shot and killed
that year in our country – which more and more resembles the Wild West.
And at the center of these past few years, which have been some of the
deadliest years ever measured for gun violence, with almost no progress
whatsoever on substantive gun reform, is money. It’s always money. Money
for campaigns from the NRA. Profits for the firearms industry. Money for
lobbyists. And again, right at the center of the shooting death of an
innocent young father, were bounty hunters and bail bondsmen so
determined to get back their money from a man that they shot a stranger,
thinking it was him. Guns are a problem, but dammit, the money trail is
never far behind.
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