Dog: The Bounty Hunter, unleashed
By Melissa Hank
The most famous bounty hunter on TV talks about his possible extradition to Mexico, the upcoming season of his hit reality show, and what he really thinks of his critics
Dog takes a break from crime-fighting
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Duane “Dog” Chapman, a leather-wearing, tattoo-laden former gang member, is crying on the phone with me. I wish I could see the salty tears slip into the folds of his leathery face, or feel the emotion shake his 53-year-old yet still-muscular body, but I can’t. So I sit and listen.
His story is the stuff screenwriters dream of. There’s crime and consequence when he racks up 18 counts of armed robbery, and five years of hard labour for a murder he says he didn’t commit. And there’s redemption and irony when he hunts criminals like himself on Dog: The Bounty Hunter, the hit reality show returning tonight for its fourth season on A&E.
But what brings the bounty hunter to tears is the thought of being sent to Mexico to stand trial for the 2003 capture that made his career, the seizure of convicted serial rapist and Max Factor heir Andrew Luster in Puerto Vallarta. Since bounty hunting is illegal in Mexico, Dog could face up to four years in a Mexican jail.
And now, as he fears for his safety, “Dog” is simply “Duane.” The three-inch boots that raise him to five-foot-10 are figuratively cast aside. His speech is laboured and gravely, like a rusty boxcar running out of steam.
“I’m very, very strong, but it’s a faith-trying ordeal that’s about to tear our family apart,” he says with a sigh. “I believe in God and Jesus, and that’s the rock I lean on. Without that, I would be devastated and I couldn’t even get out of bed.”
Dog holds the steel bars of his jail cell in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
The nightmare began just before dawn on Sept. 14, 2006. U.S. Marshals kick down the door to Chapman's Honolulu home and arrest him – and later his son Leland and colleague Tim Chapman, no relation – for kidnapping Luster and fleeing Mexico three years earlier.
There’s chaos and confusion: the men seized Luster with a Mexican constable in tow, drove to the police station as required, and only skipped the court hearing on a local attorney’s advice. So why the early-morning home invasion?
“When the feds hit house, the warrant said we were being arrested for kidnapping and conspiracy,” growls Chapman. “But when it came out of Mexico, it was only for deprivation of liberty – a minor crime punishable for six months to four years in jail. Mexican law says that you either do the time or,” he enunciates the next three words carefully, “pay a fine. Where that ball got dropped, we have no idea.”
His voice cracks. “Now every time there’s an earthquake or the moon shines a light in my eye, I think it’s the cops. It’s very traumatic.”
But not nearly as much as what follows. Chapman, Leland and Tim spend the night in a federal detention centre in Honolulu, where they operate Da Kine Bail Bonds. Encased in the metal-and-cement slab are countless criminals they helped put there, enraged, gleeful and seeking revenge. “[They] were screaming at us, saying they were going to kill us,” Leland tells press.
The next day, the three post $500,000 bail and are released with ankle monitors. The case is stalled for months, and on Feb. 15, 2007, another blow falls. A federal court rejects Chapman's injunction request and clears the way for them to be extradited to Mexico.
Chapman faces reporters after spending the night in a Federal Detention Center
“We are obviously deeply disappointed and fearful of what will happen,” spokesperson Mona Wood tells reporters. The family’s lawyer adds that Chapman offers to apologize and pay a fine, forfeiting the bail he originally posted and even making a charitable contribution.
Says Chapman, “Now we’re hoping and praying that Mexico will show mercy and drop the case. And it looks very positive that they may do that.”
But if authorities don’t, the public may have to take up the torch. One of Luster’s victims has started a legal fund, and last month the Hawaii State House passed a resolution asking the Mexican government to drop the case, and even gave Chapman a commendation for his crime-fighting. “We were very proud at everyone that’s sticking behind us,” he says. “That’s what makes things happen.”
Ah, but not everyone is a fan. “Christians are mad at me because I don’t say ‘freeze in Jesus’ name.’ I say ‘Freeze mother-f-er,’” explains Chapman. And some peers condemn his cross-border trek to nab Luster. “He represents all of the things that bail agents are trying to get away from – the cowboy image, the renegade, bring ’em home dead or alive,” Penny Harding, exec director of the California Bail Agents Association, told press.
Chapman's reply? “They’re jealous. The Bible says jealousy is as cruel as the grave. If it hurts their feelings that bad, I’m sorry that I’m number one in the world, that I’m the one that catches all the guys,” he says as his old bravado cocks an eye at critics.
Dog prays at Word of Life Church, his first public appearance since his release on bail in Honolulu
So as Chapman's troubles pile up (a woman is suing his posse for fracturing her vertebrae during a bounty, and Chapman reportedly owes nearly $200,000 in taxes), the man with the golden mullet gains his strength from the two things he holds most dear.
“Besides my family, the show is the most important thing in my life,” he says. And the two are becoming increasingly intertwined. This season, as always, Chapman's wife Beth is at his side (“I find myself leaning on her for more than food, more than love”), but two more of his 12 children, daughter Lyssa and son Tucker, are added to the mix.
“It’s getting more exciting because more guys are fighting back now. We can’t sneak up on them anymore – we have to do stealth, secret mission stuff. This old dog has had to learn new tricks,” he says.
Then, more solemnly, “The show is changing people’s lives and showing people who break the law that there is hope, there is another chance, there is someone they can lean on – me. I was them 30 years ago.” He sniffles one last time and laughs softly. “There’s just something that whispers in my ear, ‘Dog, the show must go on.’"
What are your thoughts about Dog and his plight? Let me know at email@example.com
The fourth season of Dog: The Bounty Hunter airs Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET, on A&E. Duane “Dog” Chapman’s book You Can Run But You Can't Hide will be released by Hyperion Books on Father’s Day, June 17.
Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2007