Bondsmen accused of pulling guns inside store

Two employees of a Montrose bail-bond business face criminal charges for brandishing guns as they chased a wanted fugitive inside a Walmart store in Grand Junction.

Lee Turner, 21, and James Woods, 32, both with AA Bail Bonds LLC, were issued summonses by the Grand Junction Police Department on Monday night on suspicion of disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment, according to Police Sgt. Dave Stassen.

Grand Junction officers opened an investigation after employees and customers called 911 just after 5 p.m., reporting three men, two of whom were carrying handguns, had chased another man inside Walmart, 2881 North Ave.

The pursuing trio caught up with the man near a cashier’s station at the front of the store, tackled him and placed him in handcuffs, Stassen said.

Two of the pursuers kept guns pointed on the alleged bail skip, Michael Nilsen, 31, as a third man placed Nilsen in handcuffs, Stassen said. The bondsmen wore plain clothes with no identification.

“They did not explain themselves to a (Walmart) loss-prevention officer,” Stassen said.

Turner and Woods were interviewed and ticketed after Grand Junction police met them at the Mesa County Jail later Monday, which was after Turner and Woods had delivered Nilsen to the jail.

Nilsen, who jail records indicate is homeless, was wanted on bonds totaling $35,000 after he allegedly failed to appear in court in June for two separate felony cases, including charges of escape, possession of less than 2 ounces of methamphetamine, possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Stassen said there is no Colorado prohibition on bail bondsmen carrying firearms in the course of doing their jobs, but they’re still subject to firearms statutes.

“You can’t display a weapon in a manner that causes people to be greatly alarmed,” he said.

According to Stassen, one witness told officers he or she was nearly knocked to the ground while the bondsmen wrestled with Nilsen on the floor. Two Walmart loss-prevention officers were listed in court documents as witnesses. It wasn’t clear how many customers watched it unfold.

Monday’s incident was the second in slightly more than two months in which bail-bond industry tactics have received critical attention from Mesa County law enforcement.

Public sparring between Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey and television bounty hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman focused a national spotlight on Grand Junction as the sheriff ripped Chapman and his associates for exposing Sheriff’s Department staff and visitors to a heavily pepper-sprayed Andrew Distel, 29, who was delivered to the Mesa County Jail on July 20. Chapman, whose work was panned as “peacockery” by Hilkey, defended his handling of the incident.

The sheriff said Distel was pepper-sprayed “excessively,” although the incident was not investigated criminally.

The Chapmans in July were in Grand Junction working for Dean Hergenrader, owner of Montrose-based AA Bail Bonds.

In response to a Daily Sentinel request for comment on Monday’s incident, Hergenrader faxed a prepared statement saying he was “greatly apologetic” to Walmart and its customers for witnessing “the bad choices of Michael Nilsen.”

Hergenrader said they were told by an informant Nilsen would be armed and sought to prevent him entering the store.

“Also, we did not want to inadvertently send a message to dangerous fugitives that all they have to do is run into Walmart and be OK,” the statement said.

Hergenrader said they had been looking for Nilsen for several months and were tipped he was in the 2800 block of North Avenue. Nilsen made a “last ditch” attempt to flee when spotted Monday.

“We strongly felt for the safety of the citizens of Mesa County, Mr. Nilsen needed to be apprehended and he was,” the statement said.


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