Troopers, district attorney, among 13 named in lawsuit; state to fight

Bounty hunters going back to court

Posted: Friday, February 16, 2001

The state is denying three bounty hunters' allegations that their civil rights were violated.

The bounty hunters have filed a lawsuit in federal court that targets at least 13 people and leaves room for more. Defendants range from Attorney General Bruce Botelho to the teen-age grandson of a Nikiski family that harbored the bail jumper whom the men captured.

The suit, which was filed late last year, 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.

The response to the suit came from the state attorney general's office in Anchorage in the form of a 15-page document Monday afternoon. The attorney general's office denied many of the allegations, stating much of the accusations lacked "sufficient information to form a belief about the truth."

"We anticipate filing legal motions. If the motions are successful, some or all of the complaint may be dismissed," state Assistant Attorney General Stephanie Galbraith said.

The response from the state, which was filed the afternoon of its Feb. 12 deadline, answers a suit filed by three men hired as bounty hunters by Northwest Surety Services, a Washington state bail bond company.

The three men -- Ronald L. Williams, 54, Seth Oehler, 28, and David Cameron, 45 -- were hired to catch Ricky Welch, who was wanted for skipping bail in Washington on gun charges.

The lawsuit, filed by Soldotna attorney Chuck Robinson, states the three were armed and entered a Nikiski home in October 1998, where they peacefully removed Welch in handcuffs while Welch's aunt and uncle, Margaret and Don Roberts, were present with their teen-age grandson.

The bounty hunters were acquitted by a Kenai court in April 2000 of charges of assault, accessory to assault and criminal trespass after the presiding judge dismissed other charges, including kidnapping.

The state's response to the lawsuit had a different view from a report filed by a trooper following the incident. According to the state response, the bounty hunters did indeed enter the Roberts' residence, but with their weapons drawn and in an aggressive manner.

The response also stated that Welch was not wanted on a felony warrant as the bounty hunters believed at the time, but in fact was wanted for an outstanding misdemeanor warrant.

Included among the defendants are employees of the Department of Corrections, the state trooper who arrested the three and members of the Roberts family, who are alleged to have exaggerated their account of Welch's capture.

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 named defendants, former Department of Public Safety Commissioner Ron Otte, said there was no grand conspiracy to make an example of the bounty hunters, stating he wasn't familiar with their arrest and trial until he was served with the lawsuit.

"I think we have strong legal defenses," Galbraith said. "If the case is frivolous or not will be determined by the court."

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

The state, on the other hand, is requesting that the court dismiss the complaint and enter a judgment in the defendants' favor.

"We pretty much answered everything in our response," said Galbraith. "If everything is successful, then we hope the complaint will be completely dismissed."

The bounty hunters contend that their reputations were damaged by their arrest and trial. Williams and Cameron worked as guards at Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai and were terminated from their jobs after their arrest. Oehler worked as an oil field worker who had aspired to become a state trooper.

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