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“Slap On the Wrist” for California Bail Agents Who Hired Bounty Hunter Who Killed Their Client

by Jayson Hawkins

As of December 1, 2022, the CaliforniaDepartment of Insurance (DOI) had decided to let two bail agents keep their licenses, even though they hired a bounty hunter who broke into the home of one of their clients and fatally shot the man – who had no active arrest warrant at the time.

When David Spann, 35, was arrested in April 2021 on a misdemeanor charge of violating a restraining order, he hired Melissa Lippert of Justice Bail Bonds in Riverside to post bail. Later that month, she was notified that Spann’s GPS monitoring device had been deactivated. Lippert then hired another bail agent, Jose Navarro, to apprehend Spann. Navarro, in turn, hired bounty hunter Fabian Hector Herrera.

Early in the morning of April 23, 2021, Herrera, 37, and his mother, Lisa Roberta Vargas, 53, broke into Spann’s Palm Springs home. An alarm went off, alerting the Palm Springs Police Department (PSPD), which also got calls from both Spann and Herrera. When cops arrived at the scene, the bounty hunters had Spann at gunpoint. PSPD Officer Rhett Arden tried and failed to subdue Spann with a Taser before telling Herrera, “Shoot!”

But Herrera is a convicted felon, so he was illegally in possession of the weapon, police later determined. He was arrested and charged with Spann’s murder. His mother went on the run but was also arrested and charged with the killing a month later. Both are still awaiting trial.

Meanwhile DOI went after the bail agents’ licenses. But at a June 2022 hearing, Lippert successfully argued that she had no way of knowing Herrera was operating illegally because bounty hunters are not regulated in California. State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara accepted the recommendation of an administrative law judge hearing the case and placed Lippert’s license on restriction – which doesn’t really affect her ability to stay in business.

A week before Navarro’s December 2022 hearing, DOI cut a similar deal with him: A one-year suspension of his license, followed by a four-year restriction. William Spann, the father of the man killed by the bail agents’ carelessness, called their discipline “a slap on the wrist.” He and Kandis Spann, the mother of the dead man’s children, have sued the two bail agents, as well as the city and its police department, in state court. See: Spann v. Bankers Ins. Co., Cal. Super. (Cty. of Riverside), Case No. CVRI2200196.

The case shines a light on a bigger problem. DOI investigated 196 state bail agents in relation to criminal convictions over the last ten years – 120 for misdemeanors and 76 for felonies. The crimes ranged from driving under the influence and drug offenses to domestic abuse and illegally soliciting bail business. Of the agents investigated for felony convictions, some had their licenses revoked, though some of those revoked were eventually reinstated. About 40 of those 196 who were investigated still have active licenses.

DOI’s division chief for investigations commented during a recent hearing that her branch is overwhelmed. “We lack the resources to allow for a comprehensive bail enforcement program,” she said. “Unlike workers compensation, health care, automobile, and life and annuity fraud, bail does not have a dedicated funding stream to cover the costs of investigations … and until we have that we aren’t able to adequately police the bail industry.”

Unsurprisingly, there will be no discipline for Arden, the cop who told the bounty hunter to fire at Spann. Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin notified PSPD of that on July 11, 2022. But the following month, on August 15, 2022, new PSPD Chief Andy Mills announced that his officers will no longer be deployed to help bail agents attempting to apprehend their clients. His predecessor, Brian Reyes, who was in charge when Arden intervened in Herrera’s attempt to nab Spann, blamed a lack of state regulation for bounty hunters for the killing.

Meanwhile, outcry over Spann’s killing sparked state lawmakers finally to enact a law regulating bounty hunters in the state. AB 2043 was then signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on September 29, 2022.

Source: Palm Springs Desert Sun

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