'Dog' freed on bail, says he'll be cleared
Duane "Dog" Chapman, released on bail and still wearing the blue garb of the federal jail, assured his fans last night that he would be cleared of all charges.
His personal security guards rushed him through a crowd of supporters and reporters as he left the Federal Building and entered a sport utility vehicle. On the way, Chapman thanked his fans and said he was happy to be free, while his wife, Beth, kept shouting at him to "shut up."
"We're glad for our support," Duane Chapman said. "We're glad for everything. Everyone loves us, thank you very much. If it wasn't for the people that love us, we don't know what would have happened.
"We love America. The federal marshals treated us with great respect. But let me tell you, you never want to go to a federal prison because it's terrible."
When asked if he will be vindicated of the charges, he said, "Absolutely, brah. Absolutely."
He still faces extradition proceedings to determine whether he should be sent to Mexico to face charges there.
The charges of illegal detention relate to his capture three years ago of fugitive and convicted rapist Andrew Luster in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The charges carry potential sentences ranging from six months to four years, lawyers said.
The extradition proceedings could spill over into next year.
The magistrate judge who released him on bail also ordered him to wear an electronic bracelet so he can be monitored by federal officials.
AWAITING THEIR HERO
Outside the courthouse, dozens of supporters wearing "Dog the Bounty Hunter" T-shirts and waving signs that read "Let our hero go" and "In Dog we trust" had waited to get a glimpse of their hero.
Floyd and Susan Harris of Casa Grande, Ariz., took a break from their Hawai'i vacation to show their support. The couple had earlier gone to Chapman's Da Kine Bail Bonds office to see if they could meet him, only to find out that he was in federal custody.
Susan Harris said she especially wanted to see Beth Chapman. And with the flamboyant Beth shouting at her husband, his attorney and the media, Harris got more than she bargained for.
"She's as straight up as I thought she was on TV," Harris said. "She stands by her man, and she's trying to protect him, and I appreciate that as a woman."
Frank and Denise Duarte of Mesa, Ariz., also are faithful fans of Chapman's TV show and said they admired him. They spent the final hours of their weeklong vacation yesterday waiting to see Chapman.
"We've done everything else. We did Pearl Harbor, we did the Polynesian Cultural Center and we did the beach," said Denise Duarte. "We probably were going to kick it at the beach today and then this came up, so we're here. This is more important than the beach."
Chapman declined to comment on the charges and the Mexican government's attempt to bring him back for prosecution.
"I can't say nothing about Mexico because I want to respect everybody," he said.
Despite strong objections by the U.S. Attorney's Office, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren ordered Chapman's release on $300,000 bail, which Chapman can post later in cash or with a bond.
The release on bail of suspects awaiting extradition proceedings is considered rare because they are presumed to be flight risks since they are accused of fleeing a country to avoid prosecution.
But Kurren found that Chapman has so many ties here, he wouldn't flee.
"Just look at him," Kurren said, referring to the long-haired star of the popular A&E reality show, "Dog the Bounty Hunter." "There's no way he can elude capture if he attempts to flee."
Kurren also ordered Chapman to remain at his Kahala home other than when he has to work at his bail bond business or for the TV show. Chapman must surrender his passport, not leave Hawai'i and wear the electronic monitoring bracelet.
Chapman cannot carry any firearms, but he told Kurren that's not a problem. "I have no guns or weapons," he said.
Chapman's attorney, Brook Hart, said his client was pleased by his release. "He's appreciative that the American justice system works fairly," Hart said.
Kurren also ordered the release of Chapman's son, Leland, and Tim Chapman (no relation) on $100,000 bail each with similar conditions imposed on Duane Chapman.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Johnson said he will probably appeal Kurren's decision to U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway, but did not oppose the immediate release while he challenges the ruling.
The extradition proceedings might be held late this year or early next year, Hart said.
The three men were arrested Thursday morning by federal marshals armed with an extradition warrant related to their capture of Luster, a Max Factor heir who was hiding out in Mexico under a fictitious name. But shortly after they caught Luster, the Chapmans were arrested by Mexican authorities.
They posted bail but never showed up for a hearing there on July 15, 2003.
In a courtroom overflowing with news reporters, Chapman supporters and others, Johnson argued that neither Luster nor the Mexican government considers the charges to be minor infractions. If Chapman is released and he flees, "it impacts the international relations between Mexico and the United States," he said.
Duane Chapman went to Mexico knowing that he and his associates would be subject to Mexican law, which bans bounty hunting, Johnson said.
"The Chapmans knew when they jumped bail, they were supposed to show up in court," Johnson said.
But Hart said his client went to Mexico to catch a U.S. citizen who fled from justice.
"He took him off the streets doing a major public service to the world and the country," Hart said.
In addition to finding that the Chapmans won't flee, Kurren also found special circumstances warranting their release on bail. Among those circumstances, he said, was the Mexican government taking three years to seek extradition and the lack of any allegation that the Chapmans will commit violence or continue any alleged illegal activities.
Kurren, however, granted Johnson's request that Duane Chapman and his son be monitored by someone other than their wife and mother, Beth Chapman.
Johnson said there's a "rumor" that she told her husband not to go back to Mexico.
He also cited an earlier hearing yesterday during which Beth Chapman had to explain why she wore an A&E microphone and transmitter when she entered the courthouse. Under a federal court order, cell phones and other electronic equipment are banned from the courthouse.
Howard Glickstein, Beth Chapman's lawyer, said his client and another son, Duane, never intended to record or transmit anything and didn't know they had the mike and transmitter.
Kurren said he was "disturbed" about the violation, but said he was satisfied that no recording or transmission was made.
However, he warned Beth Chapman that if it happened again, he would hold a contempt hearing that could result in sanctions that include barring her from the courthouse.
Hart said one issue is whether the Chapmans are charged with a felony in Mexico, which falls under the agreement allowing for extradition. But if the maximum sentence is only six months, it would be considered a misdemeanor and not an offense subject to extradition, he said.
Hart also said the hearings may include calling in witnesses from Mexico who saw the Chapmans catch Luster.
James Blancarte, a Los Angeles lawyer who also represents the Chapmans in the extradition proceedings, said it's premature to speculate on whether his clients will have to return to Mexico.
"Mr. Chapman is really a player within a larger picture of whether both governments are actually cooperating on extradition," he said. "But the merits of his case is really all that matters. The policy considerations, we'll leave to the politicians. We'll handle the law."
Johnson could not be reached for comment after he left the courthouse.