Bounty hunters file federal lawsuit

Posted: Friday, February 09, 2001

SOLDOTNA (AP) -- Three bounty hunters have filed a lawsuit in federal court in which they allege that state officials violated their civil rights.

The suit alleges that Alaska State Troopers conspired with state prosecutors to portray the three men as criminals in an attempt to discourage bounty hunting in Alaska.

''Because of their own beliefs and animosity toward these guys, they went out and they made up law, and it just didn't work,'' the bounty hunters' attorney Chuck Robinson said.

The suit targets at least 13 people and leaves room for more. Defendants range from Attorney General Bruce Botelho to the teenaged grandson of a Nikiski family that harbored the bail jumper whom these men captured.

State Assistant Attorney General Stephanie Galbraith is reviewing the case. She said she expects to file motions that will result in the complaint being dismissed.

The three -- Ronald L. Williams, 54, Seth Oehler, 28, and David Cameron, 45 -- were acquitted last April of charges of assault, accomplice to assault and criminal trespass. A judge dismissed other charges, including kidnapping.

Williams and Cameron worked as guards at Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai. They lost their jobs after their arrest. Oehler was an oil field hand who wanted to become a state trooper.

The three want more than $100,000 each in compensation and punitive damages.

Commander Randy Crawford, in charge of the Soldotna troopers detachment when the three men were investigated, would not comment on the case. One of the 13 named defendants, former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Ron Otte, said there was no grand conspiracy to make an example of the bounty hunters. He said he wasn't even familiar with their arrest and trial until he was served with the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs had been hired to catch Ricky Welch, wanted for skipping bail in Washington state on felony gun charges. They entered a Nikiski home in October 1998 and removed Welch in handcuffs. Present at the time were Welch's aunt and uncle, Margaret and Don Roberts, and their young grandson.

Williams and Cameron worked as guards at the Wildwood Correctional Center in north Kenai, but were moonlighting as bounty hunters. They lost their jobs after their arrest. Oehler was an oil field hand who aspired to become a trooper.

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