Have Gun, Won't Travel

Bounty hunters with guns don't fly Southwest. And a brunette bombshell in Janet's ranks.

Sometimes, The Spike just wants to reach out and smack someone. In this case, that would be Southwest Airlines, which is being incredibly chickenshit in the way it's handling an incident involving two paying customers.

The two wronged parties are -- make that were -- bounty hunters. And it's clear from The Spike's reading of the (inevitable) lawsuit that Southwest totally screwed up and then refused to do the right thing when it could have and should have.

As usual (excuse The Spike's cynicism, but isn't this the way it always goes?), this case has dragged on far too long, has cost far too much time and money, and now seems about to waste a jury's time, costing more taxpayer dollars as it grinds toward an obvious conclusion.

Mark Poutenis

Here's the scoop: On September 11, 1999, Thomas Hudgins and Leroy Devore, "bail enforcement agents" from Baltimore, showed up at the Southwest Airlines counter in Baltimore to catch a flight to Phoenix. Their assignment: bring back a bail jumper living in Tucson who'd skipped out on a charge of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

Hudgins and Devore were relatively new to the "fugitive recovery" business, having formed the company just six months earlier. Hudgins, according to court records, had spent most of his adult life either breaking and training horses in Kentucky or working as a martial arts expert. In fact, he spent a few years with Chuck Norris in Hollywood and appeared in episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger and several movies. Devore was in the military for 18 years before joining Hudgins in the bounty hunting business.

The trip to Tucson was the first that required airplane travel, says the pair's Phoenix attorney, Craig Gillespie.

So the men called Southwest to see what they had to do in order to take guns and other weapons on the flight. They say they were told to simply present their credentials to the Southwest ticket agent, along with a letter on their company letterhead and the paperwork on the fugitive they'd been assigned to recover.

They did so and, at the counter, Hudgins and Devore were given written authorization (in the form of a "Notice to Armed Individuals") by an agent who, according to court documents, wished them "good luck and happy hunting."

A security guard escorted them and their carry-on bags full of artillery around the x-ray machine and had them sign a log. They still had plenty of time before their flight, so they left the gate area and had breakfast. The security guard waved them around the checkpoint a second time.

They went to the gate, where they showed the gate agents their IDs and weapons declarations. They were given boarding passes. They got on the plane, carrying flight bags that held two semiautomatic pistols (unloaded), a lot of ammo, speed loaders, a knife in a sheath, a stun gun, brass knuckles, and, The Spike's favorite, a black ski mask. (A bit much, in The Spike's book, to capture a minor drug dealer in Tucson, but hey, these guys were new to the business.)

During the flight, while chatting it up with a flight attendant, they mentioned they were bounty hunters and that they had guns right there on the plane with them.

The Southwest attendant is the first person in this story to have correctly known that only cops -- real, certified, trained, sworn law-enforcement personnel -- can bring guns on a plane. This was federal law even before the more famous September 11 two years later.

She told the pilot, who called ahead and asked that Phoenix police meet the men when the plane landed. They were detained, and ultimately the FBI got involved. Hudgins and Devore were charged with the federal crime of carrying a concealed dangerous weapon on board an aircraft.

Worse, they were hauled off to the Maricopa County jail, where they spent three days before getting someone to bail them out.

Then they still had to nab the bail jumper in Tucson. Without their gear (which had been seized by authorities), the men bought some of those heavy-duty plastic ties at an auto parts store to secure their suspect. They brought the guy back to Phoenix but still had one more court date before they could leave town. So they had to hire a private investigator to baby-sit the guy in a hotel room while they were in court.

They did not fly Southwest back to Baltimore.

The Spike hasn't been able to figure out why Southwest Airlines just didn't tell the cops, "Whoops, we screwed up; it wasn't these guys' fault." Southwest declined to comment on the case because it is still pending.

Gillespie says Southwest at first insisted the men be prosecuted. Later, he says, Southwest attorney Don Hood told him that he'd intervene (and, in essence, 'fess up) only if the men agreed not to sue Southwest.

But by that time, Gillespie says, the men had lost their business, their ability to get jobs and, one of them, a fiancée. They'd also suffered considerable emotional distress, having been humiliated and in fear for their lives after three days in Sheriff Joe's facility, where they were "petrified" and subjected to "the terrible smell of feces, urine and body odor" of 50 other inmates. (Okay, even The Spike has to say the court pleadings get a little drippy here, with contentions of post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares and the like -- these guys are bounty hunters, for God's sake. Not to mention the irony that what goes around comes around.)

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