The eight or so men crept quietly up to the house in the Portlock neighborhood of Hawaii at the crack of dawn. The woman inside was making school lunches for her children and noticed them too late. They bum-rushed the bedroom, capturing their target in cuffs before he knew what hit him.
Duane Chapman, known as Dog, the premier American bounty hunter, would have appreciated their artistry had he not been the guy in handcuffs. Mr. Chapman, the star of A&E’s highly rated “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” was transported to the federal detention center in Honolulu to await extradition to Mexico on a three-year-old charge stemming from his capture in Mexico of Andrew Luster, the Max Factor heir who was eventually convicted of raping three women.
Back in 2003 Mr. Chapman and his colleagues were charged by Mexican authorities with “deprivation of liberty” and held in jail in Puerto Vallarta before they made bail and slipped out of the country. Now, with less than a month before the warrant would have expired and in the midst of filming the fourth season of his enormously successful reality series, Mr. Chapman was the one being brought to justice. (Yesterday the Chapman family suggested that some horse trading was under way, pointing out that Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix, part of a Mexican drug cartel, was handed over to United States authorities.)
As American symbols go, Mr. Chapman is a pretty epic one. He has had 4 wives, 12 children, 18 robbery convictions, a conviction for being an accessory to murder, and, according to his math, more than 7,000 fugitives brought to justice. He belonged to a biker gang, but cries easily and enjoys vacuuming. His show, filmed mostly in Hawaii, is a mix of tweaking meth-heads and postarrest moralism, a business built on repossessing human flesh. But with Mr. Chapman, the drama always seems to continue after the cameras shut off. On the day he was to be married this spring in a filmed ceremony, his estranged daughter died. And now this.
“He leads a complicated, edgy life,” said Lucas Platt, the supervising producer of the show. “Going after Andrew Luster was a risky decision, but he thought it was the right thing to do. Now it has taken an unfortunate turn.” The turn won’t hurt ratings. A&E plans a special for tomorrow night, and the stories about his travails will only add to the legend. The man who brought vengeance to thousands of bail jumpers found himself on the wrong end of justice.
“I was totally freaked out,” Mr. Chapman said on the phone Saturday after he had posted a $300,000 bail to await a hearing on extradition. “There were guys that I had put in there that were yelling all sorts of things at me.”
His wife Beth, a co-star in the series, worked frantically for his release.
The 2003 Luster arrest, which catapulted Mr. Chapman to a new level of celebrity and eventually resulted in A&E signing him for the series, led to a lasting grudge on the part of Mexican authorities, who demanded that the United States extradite the bounty hunter.
On Thursday night the Mexican attorney general released a statement suggesting that what Mr. Chapman had done was an affront to national sovereignty.
Larry Butrick, chief of the criminal division for the United States Attorney’s Office in Honolulu, said that his staff was merely executing a valid warrant that came from headquarters in Washington.
“The court here really will just be looking at the legality of the extradition and if there is a fit under the treaty we have with Mexico,” he said.
One of Mr. Chapman’s lawyers is hoping that the matter can be settled somewhere short of a Mexican prison.
“I have a high level of confidence that we will be able work with the good will and good faith of the Mexican authorities in resolving this satisfactorily,” said William C. Bollard, who represents Mr. Chapman, his son Leland and Tim Chapman (no relation), a bounty-hunting colleague, all of whom helped apprehend Mr. Luster. For now the Dog is at large, albeit with an ankle bracelet.
“If I have a fugitive on the run and have to go out at night, I have to notify them,” he said, referring to federal officials. “I have no problem with that.”
In the month before his arrest, Mr. Chapman was busy hunting jumpers for the benefit for those who posted bond, and for a nimble A&E camera crew that jogged after them. The show’s template is simple and effective: The quarry is selected, a plan is made among the family members who make up most of his crew, the hunt commences and then capture, usually followed by a hug at the end, although a handcuffed one.
A bad guy made good by an 18-month stint in prison on the accessory-to-murder charge, Mr. Chapman sees an arrest as a kind of intervention, a way to let the runner face the music and begin a new life.
“We put families back together,” he explained, even though they often do that by putting one of the heads of the household behind bars. It has been wildly popular — “Dog the Bounty Hunter” is A&E’s most-watched show — partly because his mix of mayhem and moralizing has a kind of outlaw sweetness. It is a bit of Ward Cleaver, though accompanied by multiple cans of Mace, just in case.
On television, or in person during a recent visit by a reporter to Mr. Chapman’s headquarters in Hawaii, the hunt is a spectacle to behold. On a hot day near the end of August, Mr. Chapman laid out the agenda for the day. Item first and last: putting bond jumper Monalisa Hartsock in cuffs.
“She has the letter R tattooed on her left breast,” Dog told his colleagues at Da Kine Bail Bonds, which he and his wife own on Queen Emma Street in Honolulu. Speaking from behind major sunglasses that play MP3’s including “I Fought the Law” and thumping an ornate American Indian walking stick for emphasis, Dog warned that Ms. Hartsock was one of the many island inhabitants who got lost in smokable meth: “She knows she is going to jail.” The lowdown on Ms. Hartsock is followed by a shout-out to Jesus, who always rides point on any hunt.
Hawaii is a near-perfect ecosystem for bounty hunting. It is a rock, after all, thousands of miles out in the ocean, so a person can hide in only so many places. Meth has overtaken the island, so there is no shortage of bail-jumping, tweaky perps. Dog crossed over after his prison time, but just barely, still working the corners of the law to substantial effect. The rest of his crew could not be cast any better: Beth, a large sexpot with brutal intelligence and an oft-hidden heart of gold; Tim, the wizened sensei who works himself into a quiet rage; Duane Lee, the normal guy with abnormal biceps who loves taking down bad guys; Leland, the wayward son swaddled in tattoos and mail from adoring fans, and “Baby” Lisa, the up-and-coming toughie.
Mr. Chapman sees himself as a fisher of men, an enforcer who brings people to justice in what he calls “the cuffs of love.” He first turned it around as the No. 1 Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman in the country during the early 1970’s and now has taken his dust-busting ways to cleaning up the culture at large.
In a single episode he works the gutters for data, deploys phony accents and white lies on the phone, and physically tracks a runner in a way that seems a bit supernatural. It helps that most crooks are dumb as a box of rocks, but still.
The name Monalisa has Beth Chapman humming the song recorded by Nat King Cole. She has a lovely voice, albeit paired with a top-heavy endowment that borders on the architectural and a tendency to go junkyard dog when cornered. All honey for the time being, she convinces one of Monalisa’s pals who posted bail to help them find her.
Beth gently explained to Desiree that while it is hard to give up a pal, “the alternative is you have to pay the bond.” A call finally went through to Monalisa: Desiree convinced her to meet at a 76 gas station. The trap is set.
Right on schedule, Monalisa pulled in. “That’s her,” Desiree said. But Beth’s car was momentarily blocked in by Tim’s so she could not come around the other side; Monalisa saw Dog — tough to miss in his stunt mullet— hop out of Tim’s car, and she began backing up. Leland flew out of Beth’s car and filled the fleeing car with Mace, as did Duane Lee, but Monalisa tore out in reverse and careened through an intersection toward the highway, cars squealing to avoid her. Beth, in hot pursuit, filled the car with expletives : “Of all the rookie moves in the world!” she said. She fruitlessly crisscrosses the nearby neighborhood at high speed, while the car driven by Tim does the same. Mistakes were made. (Monalisa was finally captured by Dog and company early this month.)
Dog freely admits later to messing up Monalisa’s capture. He pleads guilty as well and to rolling around in his 15 minutes. “I always wanted to be the good guy in the black hat,” he said.
Despite the success of his show, his team had to scrape together money to bail him. Each member of the crew has a hard-knock history, no one assuming they deserve or can depend on success. They may have gone Hollywood, but their trashy roots are never painted over with peroxide.
By definition, anybody Mr. Chapman catches is having a bad day, but when the chase is over, Dog always gives them a cigarette and The Talk, an echo of a life-changing discussion he had with a deputy who was taking him to jail so many years ago.
Earlier that same week in August the hunting was more fruitful. After looking all over Oahu, they found Jacob Falenofoa, another meth casualty, with the help of his wife, who co-signed the bond. They found him at the house of a girlfriend’s parents in Pearl City. Riding back on H1, a highway that heads back to Honolulu, Dog went all biblical on Jacob, talking about how the drugs he was doing “ate his brain” and how deep down he was a good family man. This being Hawaii, a rainbow bloomed to the north as the speech peaked.
Dog said he was happy with the day’s outcome.
“I believe in what I do, I am good at what I do, and I want to be able to say that Jesus played a role in it,” he said. “Never, ever, has anyone ever escaped.”
Not even Dog. A few short weeks later, the cuffs of love found Mr. Chapman.
James C. McKinley Jr. contributed reporting from Mexico.