Five ski-masked men in black claiming to be bounty hunters kick down the door of a house and gun down a young couple in their bed.
It sounds like the stuff of a Hollywood movie, but last summer's shootout was real and it focused national attention on the people who go hunting for bail jumpers.As it turned out, the ski-masked men weren't really bounty hunters at all. Police say the five - who wore body armor and black military-style clothing - were really robbers looking for drugs. They were charged with first-degree murder.
That didn't stop Arizona lawmakers from approving a bill that regulates the shadowy profession for the first time - a move critics say could make the state much more attractive to fugitives.
Under the new law, bounty hunters no longer can kick in doors to collar bail jumpers; they must first get permission to enter. Felons can't be bounty hunters. And wearing clothing or badges that gives the impression that a bounty hunter is a cop is out, too.
"We cannot and will not tolerate armed men posing as law enforcement officers putting innocent civilians at risk," Gov. Jane Hull said Thursday at a ceremonial bill signing attended by about 30 relatives and friends of the victims, Chris Foote and Spring Wright.
The measure officially became law May 29.
Nora Foote said it was unfortunate that it took her brother-in-law's death to spotlight the problem of rogue bounty hunters. But she praised legislators for establishing standards for bounty hunters, who are paid to catch fugitives who miss court dates.
"I'd like the public to understand they are safe in their homes," she said. "These people do not have the right to invade your home now."
Opponents say the legislation could have an unintended effect: It could make it tougher to apprehend bail jumpers in Arizona.
"Because of five thugs in Phoenix and their behavior, they've gone ahead and possibly created a haven for fugitives in the entire state of Arizona," said Mel Bart, director of the National Association of Bail Enforcement Agents.
Bart, whose organization counts 2,500 bounty hunters and bail agents as members, said bail jumpers can remain on the lam simply by refusing to answer a bounty hunter's knock on the door.
Former state Sen. John Kaites, who sponsored the bill, said the law shouldn't hamper bounty hunters.
"If a legitimate bounty hunter wants to get a felon that's inside a house, all they have to do is call the police, show them the warrant and then the police can execute the search," Kaites said.
Or a bounty hunter can stake out a house and wait for a suspect to leave, said Kaites, who recently resigned from the Legislature to seek the Republican nomination for attorney general.