PARKERSBURG – Despite claiming she is serving justice by being cautious to bring an indictment in a Mason County forgery case, a Parkersburg bondsman says Wood County prosecutor Ginny Conley created an injustice in her haste to have him convicted on bogus charges.
Last month, Conley, who is serving as a special prosecutor investigating allegations Point Pleasant attorney Raymond G. Musgrave forged a settlement check owed his client Danny R. Westmoreland, said she's yet to determine whether to seek an indictment because all the evidence she has is based on "speculation and conjecture." Bringing an indictment against Musgrave at this point in the investigation, Conley says, which is in its 16th month, is "not serving justice."
However, Edward D. "Ed" Rempel, a Parkersburg bail bondsman, says Conley wasn't so concerned about justice seven years ago. In the course of 14 months, Rempel said Conley twice attempted to convict him on charges stemming from his arrest of a bail fugitive, a matter in which he had more than sufficient legal authority.
Tracking a fugitive from Virginia
Rempel's run-in with Conley started, he says, in April 1999 when a bail enforcement agent from Virginia Beach called his mother, Pauline O. Rempel, asking if she would find, apprehend and deliver to him a man who skipped bail and was believed to be in the Parkersburg-area. Pauline assigned the task to Ed who typically handles enforcement of bail contracts for their firm, POR Enterprises, a private investigation and bail bonding company.
Upon receiving the bailpiece, Ed says about 10 days later he confirmed the fugitive, George L. Carpenter, Jr. was in Parkersburg. According to Rempel, Carpenter, who skipped on a $4,000 bond, was residing with his stepfather, Jerry Chesseman.
Instead of attempting to affect an arrest at Cheeseman's home, Rempel says he decided to capture Carpenter in a public place. That opportunity, Rempel said, came on April 29, 1999 when Carpenter, Cheeseman and Mark William Smith stopped in at the now demolished Exxon on U.S. 50 off the I-77 Interstate exit.
"When I made my positive ID, that's when I made my arrest," Rempel said.
As he observed the trio changing tires on a car in the Exxon's parking lot, Rempel says he approached them with a 12-guage shotgun, ordered them to the ground and informed them he was placing Carpenter under arrest to return him to Virginia Beach. His arrest of Carpenter went without incident, Rempel said.
Accused of Kidnapping
However, Rempel says Chesseman talked him into letting he and Smith go so as to get Carpenter a change of clothes for his trip. Instead, they left to call police, and accuse him of attempted kidnapping, Rempel said.
While waiting for Cheeseman and Smith to return, Rempel said several cruisers from the Wood County Sheriff's Department arrived on the scene. Since deputies knew him, Rempel said he was not placed under arrest, but asked to remain at the scene until they could assess the situation. Among the people with whom they conferred was Conley, Rempel said.
According to Rempel, Conley said she was unaware of any laws he may have broken. However, Conley asked police to get a signed statement from Rempel assuring Carpenter would be returned unharmed to Virginia Beach.
Rempel complied, and had Pauline transport Carpenter to Virginia Beach. As far as he was concerned, Rempel said, the matter was closed.
"She said she [Conley] would take care of it," Rempel said.
However, 17 days later, Ed said he received a call from Pauline informing him of a warrant that was sworn out for his arrest by Sheriff's Deputy B.A. Pickens. After calling to confirm the warrant was valid, Ed says he turned himself into the Sheriff's Department.
Rempel was arraigned on felony charges of wanton endangerment with a firearm stemming from his arrest of Carpenter (Wood County Magistrate Court, Case No. 99-F-128). He was released after posting $2,000 bail.
Fearing he would not receive adequate counsel from local attorneys, Rempel said he hired Charleston attorney James Cagle to defend him.
130-year old legal precedent
The defense they used against the charges, Rempel said, is the standard used by bail enforcers in making arrests of bail fugitives. In the case of Taylor v. Taintor (83 U.S. 366), the U.S. Supreme Court in 1872 granted broad arrest powers to bondsmen, which Rempel says, applies directly to his case.
In Taylor, the Court in a 4-3 decision affirmed the decision by the Supreme Court of Connecticut that bondsmen retain custody of a subject even when he may have fled to another jurisdiction, and convicted on other charges. In his majority opinion, Justice Noah Swayne said bondsmen may use any means necessary to pursue and apprehend a person who skipped bail.
"When bail is given," Swayne wrote, "the principal is regarded as delivered to the custody of his sureties. Their dominion is a continuance of the original imprisonment. Whenever they choose to do so, they may seize him and deliver him up in their discharge; and if that cannot be done at once, they may imprison him until it can be done.
"They may exercise their rights in person or by agent," Swayne continued. "They may pursue him into another State; may arrest him on the Sabbath; and, if necessary, may break and enter his house for that purpose. The seizure is not made by virtue of new process. None is needed. It is likened to the re-arrest by the sheriff of an escaping prisoner.
One set of charges dismissed; indictments handed down on others
Despite having broad arrest powers, Rempel says he's careful to use only the amount of force necessary to affect an arrest, including the display and use of a firearm. The use of a shotgun when arresting Carpenter was necessary, Rempel said, because he was with two other people who could have used the tire irons as weapons.
On Aug. 10, 1999, Wood County Magistrate Charles Plum granted a motion by Conley to dismiss the wanton endangerment charges against Rempel. Though at the time she declined to be specific, Conley said more time was needed to investigate the case.
On Jan. 14, 2000, Rempel was indicted on three misdemeanor counts of brandishing and unlawful acts with a firearm by the Wood County grand jury (Wood County Circuit Court, Case No. 00-M-1). The indictments were brought, Rempel says, partly as an attempt by Conley to discredit him in the civil suit he filed on Nov. 10, 1999 against Pickens for false arrest (Wood County Circuit Court, Case No. 99-C-508).
"It was a politically motivated thing," Rempel said.
However, Rempel was successful in getting the brandishing charges dismissed. On July 3, Wood County Circuit Judge George W. Hill agreed that Rempel's actions fell within the powers outlined in the Taylor decision.
"This is an unusual case," Hill said, according to court transcripts. "But from my research, the bail bondsman has extraordinary powers, more than a police officer.
"He can enter a home without a search warrant. He can arrest without a warrant. And it just far exceeds what a police officer can do. And I don't think that a police officer could be charged criminally for this behavior," Hill added.
According to transcripts, Conley was caught off-guard by Hill's intent to dismiss the charges, and attempted to object to his findings. However, Hill stood firm in his ruling.
Conley: "So those are the findings, Your Honor?
The Court: "Yes, ma'am."
Conley: And also – so I guess I am understanding – because I know – I mean, this issue will come up. You are saying that bondsmen can pull guns on people to apprehend them, even …"
The Court: "I am not saying anything except this indictment is not valid."
The Court: "I am not saying anything beyond that."
Conley: "I guess I – I am sorry."
Conley, who declined to comment for this story, sparred with Hill one last time when she announced her intentions to refile an indictment against Rempel.
Conley: "I just want to make sure our objection, and we will be filing a writ on the record because it is contrary to what the grand jury was advised, Your Honor."
The Court: "Well, I don't care. You present these things to the grand jury."
Conley: "Thank you, Your Honor."
The Court: "Maybe I was wrong when I approved that instruction to the grand jury. I don't know. That is not the issue here."
Despite her intentions to refile an indictment, Conley, who was up for re-election in 2000, quietly let the matter rest. Hill later dismissed Rempel's civil suit against Pickens on July 26, 2000.
A learning experience
Since the dismissal of the case, Rempel says he continues to arrest bail fugitives, though he is extra careful to display a firearm. As the case prior to his arrest of Carpenter, Rempel said all arrests have gone without incident.
Despite having to shell out $10,000 in legal fees, Rempel, 42, is philosophical about the attempts Conley made to prosecute him. Hopefully, Rempel says, police and prosecutors will see the positive role bondsmen and bail enforcement agents play in the criminal justice system.
"I feel there needs to be more training for prosecutors and police departments on the rights of bondsmen," Rempel said.