NAMPA — It’s been a year since bounty hunter Guy Bracali-Gambino watched a wanted man get shot dead in front of him.
In the spring of 2015, Bracali-Gambino was on the hunt for 58-year-old Philip Clay, a Nampa man who had an outstanding warrant in Ada County and was believed to be hiding out in the Ammon area in southeast Idaho near Idaho Falls.
When located by the bounty hunters, they say, Clay pointed a gun at them. It was then that Clay was fatally shot by bounty hunter Christopher Schulthies, according to police. Schulthies fired his gun five times, shooting Clay at least four times, according to police reports. At least four other armed people, including Bracali-Gambino, were present when Clay was fatally shot.
No one other than Schulthies fired their weapon, according to sources and police reports. No criminal charges were filed against the bounty hunters, and they were released after questioning.
Since the shooting, Bracali-Gambino hasn’t spoken to the media. He said they were under their attorney’s advisement to not speak out, but Bracali-Gambino says it’s time to share his story.
The Idaho Press-Tribune requested all records regarding Clay’s shooting to verify the accusations made by the bounty hunter. The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office provided 122 pages of police reports, photos from the scene of the shooting and two audio recordings of law enforcement interviews with witnesses.
Clay’s death raised concerns about the powers of bail enforcement agents — commonly called bounty hunters — in Idaho and led to state legislation that passed the House last legislative session but died in the Senate.
The legislation would have implemented restrictions around bounty hunting, including forbidding felons from working as bounty hunters, forbidding them from wearing badges and mandating they have an enhanced concealed carry weapons permit. There currently are no laws in place on bail enforcement agent restrictions.
After the Press-Tribune published a story on the failed legislation, Bracali-Gambino reached out to the newspaper, ready to share his story.
FOR THE RECORD
Bracali-Gambino, of Meridian, said the moment Clay was shot still stays with him, and the memory of that day will never be forgotten.
Sheriff’s reports say that when a responding deputy arrived on scene, Bracali-Gambino was holding Clay’s head as he lay on the ground. Schulthies was applying pressure to the gunshot wound in Clay’s leg, according to the report.
Bracali-Gambino said he performed CPR on Clay. Bracali-Gambino said that before shots were fired, he repeatedly asked Clay to drop his weapon and didn’t want to shoot, despite having a weapon pointed at him. Police reports verified a handgun was found near Clay when they arrived on scene.
Clay, of Nampa, was shot March 15, 2015, outside an apartment complex in Ammon after bounty hunters came from Boise to arrest him on an Ada County warrant for a drug charge.
Clay had multiple drug charges in his history and after bonding out of jail he failed to appear in court and a warrant was issued.
At the time, Bracali-Gambino said he was contracted as a bounty hunter for Aladdin Bail Bonds in Ada County.
Bracali-Gambino was part of a group of bounty hunters at the scene of Clay’s shooting, including Kathleen Flores, Alfredo Arreguin Jr., James Eggleston and Michael “Bubba” Moore.
Allegations were made by witnesses that throughout the hunt for Clay, the bounty hunters presented themselves as law enforcement.
During an interview with the Idaho Press-Tribune, Bracali-Gambino displayed the badges worn the day of the shooting. The badges included an emblem of a seven-pointed gold star and read “Bail Enforcement Agent” on the badge.
The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office’s badges also depict a seven-pointed star.
He maintains that when speaking with members of Clay’s family prior to the shooting, he always introduced himself as a bail enforcement agent and never introduced himself as a police officer or U.S. marshal.
Bracali-Gambino spoke with people who knew Clay the day before the shooting while he and his partner were still looking for Clay. Bracali-Gambino claims he repeatedly told Clay’s family he was a bail enforcement agent.
Patricia Holt, Clay’s mother, spoke with Bracali-Gambino when the bounty hunters were still searching for her son, according to Holt. Holt said she doesn’t remember if the bounty hunters introduced themselves as law enforcement or bail enforcement agents, but the way they presented themselves made her assume they were law enforcement, she told the Idaho Press-Tribune.
Holt, of Rigby, felt that bounty hunters wearing badges gave the wrong impression.
Officers on scene at the shooting reported that the bail enforcement agents on scene, including Bracali-Gambino, had badges that “closely resembled” the city police and Drug Enforcement Agent badges, according to police report.
Bracali-Gambino maintains that the badge he wears is not issued by a government agency because bounty hunters do not have a formal license from the state. He argued that the badges do not claim to be law enforcement officers and bail enforcement agent badges can be ordered online.
The legislation that was proposed and failed this year would have forbidden bounty hunters from wearing any kind of badge.
A police report written by Bonneville County Sheriff’s Deputy Nathan Bennion said Bennion spoke with Bracali-Gambino on March 13, 2015, and the bounty hunter asked if the sheriff’s office could assist Bracali-Gambino’s team searching the residence where they believed Clay was. The report said Bracali-Gambino wanted the deputies there as a “show of force.”
The deputy declined to assist Bracali-Gambino, saying they could not serve as “protection detail while he and his team searched a residence that they thought was a dangerous search,” according to the report. The report stated Bracali-Gambino told law enforcement they would “go in” to search the residence without law enforcement.
Police don’t go out looking for people who have skipped out on bond in an effort to debt collect. But police will arrest them if they come into contact with them through some other means because that person has an outstanding warrant.
Other police reports say Bracali-Gambino requested the sheriff’s office perform a traffic stop on Clay, which they declined to do, saying it was dangerous, according to police reports. Deputies also alleged he had been making traffic stops.
Bracali-Gambino denies making the illegal stops and said he never lied to police.
Bracali-Gambino said he had been working as a bounty hunter since 2012, undergone training and had arrested hundreds of wanted people. He also said he has undergone extensive training classes in arrests and is trained in mixed martial arts but never attended a police academy or served in the military.
After the shooting, law enforcement found two AR-15-type assault rifles in the bed of the pickup of one of the bounty hunters and multiple 30-round rifle magazines, according to police reports. All of the bounty hunters were carrying handguns.
HOW BOUNTY HUNTERS OPERATE
Bounty hunters in Idaho do not have the authority to arrest any wanted person. They only arrest individuals who have been released from custody on bond, failed to appear in court and the suspect then has a bench warrant issued and owes money to a bail bondsman.
Bail bondsmen in the state must have a license from the Idaho Department of Insurance. Bounty hunters require no license.
Part of the agreement made when a bondsman grants an inmate bond is that the inmate must appear at all of their following court appearances. If they do not, a bondsman has the authority to arrest them.
Michael Way, a local bail bondsman and friend of Bracali-Gambino, explained that people out on bond rarely flee the city, but many will fail to appear in court.
Way said that if people are in custody and request bond, he first asks if they’re employed before granting them the loan. If they don’t have the money, Way said he generally attempts to have people pay at least half of the money up-front before entering a payment plan.
When Way grants an individual bond, if they do not appear in court, he has the authority to arrest them. Bondsmen then may utilize bounty hunters to make that arrest, he said. The percentage the bounty hunters make for arresting a person differs.
Bounty hunters are generally paid 10 percent of the bond, and if the fugitive is out of state it is then increased to 20 percent plus costs, said Toni Bracali-Gambino, Guy’s wife. Clay’s bond was set at $50,000.
Some other bounty hunting teams are on salary by bondsmen.