09/8/06 - Posted from the Daily Record newsroom
Judge yanks gun permit for bounty hunter
A Superior Court judge on Thursday revoked a Parsippany resident's permit to carry a handgun, finding that the man failed to disclose in his application permit that he was involved in capturing fugitives, or "bounty-hunting."
Judge Salem Vincent Ahto, sitting in Morristown, revoked the handgun-carrying permit that both he and Parsippany police approved in May for Augustis Grimanis, 40, based upon his statements that he worked for a Union-based company as an armed escort for jewelry couriers and ATM technicians.
Grimanis had first applied to Parsippany's police chief for a carry permit in early 2005 and was denied after he disclosed that he ran a company that provided personal protection and went after bail-jumpers or fugitives. In New Jersey, fugitive recovery agents, also called bounty hunters, do not have a right as trained police officers do to carry a weapon; rather, their applications to carry are judged on a case-by-case basis and they have to show a "justifiable need"to carry a firearm in public.
After the first denial, Grimanis took a job with Union-based Direct Guard LLC and applied a second time to Parsippany for a carry permit. He was approved in May, and Ahto also reviewed the application and approved it. The judge's review included a detailed letter from Direct Guard CEO Ron Padron, who wrote about providing armed escorts for ATM and bank technicians and jewelry salesmen but never mentioned fugitive recovery jobs.
Grimanis' role as a bounty hunter became known on June 19 when he was conducting surveillance in Jersey City for a wanted fugitive, Mario Garcia, and apprehended the man in a convenience store on Williams Avenue. A mob of more than 20 people -- mostly relatives and friends of Garcia -- surrounded the store but Grimanis never drew the handgun he was carrying. Jersey City police questioned his position when they arrived at the store and contacted the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, which filed an action with Ahto to revoke Grimanis' carry permit.
"There is nothing in that communication directed to a judge that (indicates) that Mr. Grimanis would be used for fugitive recovery or bail recovery," Ahto said of Padron's letter. "This is a fugitive recovery company. They're not going to get a permit to carry from me."
Grimanis' lawyer, Thomas Butler, unsuccessfully asked the judge to let his client continue carrying the gun during other jobs he performs for Direct Guard. Butler pointed out that Grimanis showed enormous restraint and skill when he refused to pull out his gun in Jersey City, even when confronted by a mob. Grimanis also has passed courses in firearms safety and the use of deadly force, Butler said.
After the hearing, Padron said that Grimanis will still have a job with Direct Guard, and that he is incensed that Morris County seems to be the only county in the state that does not grant handgun-carrying permits to bail recovery agents.
Four years ago in Morris County, then-Superior Court Assignment Judge Reginald Stanton created a furor in the bounty-hunting community when he denied the applications of two men to carry guns as fugitive recovery agents. Stanton opined that, though the men met the statutory requirements of having good characters and abilities to handle firearms, he believed only trained law enforcement officers who are accountable to the public should be responsible for nabbing fugitives.
A state appeals court in 2003 determined that any rights of bounty hunters to carry guns on the job should be decided on a case-by-case basis.