PHOENIX (CN) — Bounty hunters swarmed a Phoenix home late at night in search of a fugitive last year — and found the city’s police chief, who has sued them for trespass and assault.
Police Chief Joseph Yahner woke up to yelling and banging on his front door just before 10 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2015, and saw his house surrounded by bounty hunters armed with paintball guns. His fiancée, who stayed inside throughout the confrontation, called 911.
The showdown made national headlines. Investigators blamed a rival bounty hunter for sending a bogus tip that prompted Brent Farley, owner of NorthStar Fugitive Recovery, to hit the wrong target.
Farley, along with the tipster, Aaron Bray, Mesa Bail Bonds, and the husband-and-wife team of Gregory Turner and Leslie O’Donohue of Delta One Tactical Rescue, are all defendants in Yahner’s Aug. 2 lawsuit in Maricopa County Court.
“The actions of defendant Farley and the other bounty hunters caused plaintiffs to be in fear for their lives,” Yahner and his fiancée say in the complaint.
Mark Tabaka, of Mesa Bail Bonds, said the lawsuit caught him by surprise. He denied that Bray has ever worked for him, as the lawsuit contends.
“He’s an independent contractor,” Tabaka said in an interview, adding that he has helped Bray work some cases for other companies.
Yahner’s attorneys and other defendants did not return calls or could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
On the night of the raid, Yahner says, he demanded that the bounty hunters leave, but they refused. He opened the front door, holding a baton for protection. When he walked out, Farley yelled at him, shined a flashlight in his eyes and pulled a 9-mm pistol from its holster “to prevent plaintiff Yahner from being able to defend himself against defendant Farley’s threat and potential use of deadly force.”
When Yahner identified himself as a police officer, Farley demanded to see a badge, but the chief — clad only in boxer shorts — didn’t have it on him. Farley refused to produce ID when Yahner requested it, the chief says.
Donohue recorded the whole incident, which Yahner says invaded his privacy and caused him much embarrassment.
“The videotape was broadcast and re-broadcast multiple times all over the world,” the complaint states. “Video of this incident will live on forever on the world wide web.”
After Yahner’s fiancée, Monica Guerin, called police, Farley was arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct. A trial for Farley, who has maintained he didn’t know the police chief lived at the house, is set for Sept. 8.
In February, Farley told The Arizona Republic that his company had notified police in advance of the targeted address, and that police did not reveal who lived at the house.
Police have said they’d been told only that bounty hunters would be in the general area.
Farley also has said the chief was aggressive, but insisted he never pointed a gun at Yahner.
Bray, who was arrested a few days after the raid, was convicted in a plea agreement of attempted computer tampering, a felony. Police determined he had sent the bad tip on social media using a fake Oklahoma phone number. Since the warrant for the fugitive’s arrest was issued in that state, it “gave the false tip an air of legitimacy,” the lawsuit states.
Turner and Donohue pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing.
Yahner seeks punitive damages for trespass, assault, privacy invasion and negligence. He is represented by Lori Berke.
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