Bounty hunter who mistakenly rousted Phoenix police chief: ‘I have to live with that’ – AZCentral.com
In a 2017 interview, Greg Turner narrates what happened when bounty hunters mistakenly targeted the home of the Phoenix police chief in August 2015. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral.com
Greg Turner and a team of bounty hunters banged on the door of a Phoenix house in the middle of the night 18 months ago. They found themselves confronting not the fugitive they expected at the address, but the chief of police in his boxer shorts.
Turner admits mistakes were made. But he still argues that those mistakes, which hurt his bounty-hunting business and could force him into personal bankruptcy, shouldn’t have been treated as a crime.
In his first public interview about the August 2015 incident, Turner acknowledged the operation didn’t go as he planned. He said the team should have tried the polite approach of knocking and waiting, rather than swarming, shouting and banging on the front door — turning what was an unfortunate error into international news. The error resulted in criminal charges against Turner and others involved and a civil lawsuit with a million-dollar judgment.
“I made an embarrassment to my state and it made it all over the world,” said Turner, who grew up in Buckeye. “We’re the people who hit the police chief’s house, and I have to live with that.”
‘I don’t owe the chief nothing’
Turner and six other bounty hunters went to the chief’s home based on a tip in an ongoing case. Looking back on that night, Turner said he should have scrutinized the address of the home himself, rather than trusting another bounty hunter — though he admitted the name Joseph Yahner would have meant nothing to him had he known it. He didn’t know it was the name of Phoenix’s police chief, he said.
But Turner did not think the mistake merited criminal charges, ones that kept him from working as a bounty hunter for a time. Nor did he think it merited the civil lawsuit that Yahner and his wife filed against Turner in August.
In the suit, Yahner and his wife, Monica Guerin Yahner, contend that Turner caused them trauma and emotional distress. The lawsuit says the team of bounty hunters committed assault and trespassing on that night and that Turner’s common-law wife, Leslie O’Donohue, invaded the couple’s privacy by recording the incident on a video camera.
Yahner, who retired as police chief in October, declined to comment on Friday.
“I don’t owe the chief nothing,” Turner said of the lawsuit. “He’s saying this is emotional distress? You’re chief of police in one of the largest cities in the United States. You’re trying to say you’ve been distressed? Come on.”
Neither Turner nor O’Donohue answered the summons for the civil proceeding. In November, a Maricopa County Superior Court commissioner entered a default judgment in the case, awarding the Yahners $1.9 million in damages.
Turner and O’Donohue are responsible for $1.35 million of that amount.
“I’m sorry,” Turner said of Yahner. “He’s greedy.”
Turner said he was never properly served notice of the lawsuit. And, he said, should it come to it, he’s prepared to file bankruptcy to rid himself of the claim.
Turner said there are often mistakes like this in his line of work, in which a team hits the wrong house. Police make errors, too, he said. But typically, a bounty hunter’s honest error is not met with criminal charges and a lawsuit for damages, he said.
“I’ll apologize to the city of Phoenix, the mayor, for all that embarrassment,” Turner said. “There were some mistakes. But it shouldn’t have went the way it did.”
A tip, but not the right one
Turner said he was hired to track down a fugitive who was facing drug charges out of Oklahoma. He said there was pressure to capture the man because the deadline to deliver him to court was approaching. Turner said he worked tips about the man’s whereabouts in Colorado and in Arizona, checking out two addresses in the retirement community of Youngtown.
Turner said he was home in bed on the evening of Aug. 4, 2015, a Tuesday. He said he received a text from a bounty hunter, Brent Farley.
Farley had received a tip that said the fugitive they were after was in north Phoenix. The tipster sent the address of the police chief.
“I asked him on text message, ‘Did you vet the address?’ ” Turner said. The reply came back that he had and that Farley was “good to go.”
Farley did not respond to calls seeking comment for this story. He was sentenced to two years of supervised probation in January for his role in the incident.
The tip came from another bounty hunter, Aaron Bray, whom police said had a vendetta against Farley and intentionally sent him to the chief’s home.
Bray, reached by phone on Friday, said the situation was “complicated,” but wouldn’t go into details. Bray said he didn’t really know Farley and that it wasn’t about any sort of competitiveness between bounty hunters.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I know it does look like I’m a bad guy.”
Bray pleaded guilty to a felony count of computer tampering for sending the false tip. He was sentenced in August to two years probation. He was also sued by the Yahners, but answered the complaint and was not part of the default judgment. He said Friday he did not know the status of the civil case against him and hoped it would go away.
Bray said when he saw news of the raid, he was surprised that it was conducted so aggressively. He figured that most bounty hunters would have simply knocked on the door, maybe in the daytime.
“Obviously, it went horribly wrong,” Bray said, ”and I had to pay for it.”
Spurred by the tip, Turner mobilized his team about a block away from Yahner’s home and prepared to apprehend a fugitive he believed was desperate and violent.
Turner said he should have waited to bring up his own team from Tucson, a crew he trusted. But, he said, given the good tip and the deadline to bring in the fugitive, he felt he couldn’t wait.
Turner concocted a plan. He would knock on the front door. He was dressed that night in business clothes and was not armed. He figured he would state his business to whomever answered. Farley and another man would be on the side ready to intervene if the situation grew dire.
But that plan was scuttled when the team drove to Yahner’s house, Turner said.
Farley got out of his car first and went right up to the door, Turner said.
“He wouldn’t wait for me,” Turner said. “He just went, boom, bam.”
Turner figured Farley was excited because it was his tip and there was a relatively big reward.
In a video of the incident, Farley shouts at the door that he’s looking for a man named Roderick.
Raw video: Bounty hunters mistakenly target Phoenix police chief’s house.
After a few moments, Yahner opens the door and shouts back that he’s not Roderick. He also demands that Farley turn off the flashlight he’s aiming at the front door.
Yahner then opens his door and walks onto his porch, clad only in boxer shorts. In the video, he tells the three men, “I don’t care who you’re looking for.” Yahner was carrying a long flashlight that he shone back at the men.
One of the bounty hunters tells Yahner to “get back.” Yahner responds, “Why? Are you going to … shoot me?” He also called the man an insulting name.
According to Yahner’s civil lawsuit, Farley, at one point, drew out a handgun. He then re-holstered his gun, but drew out his pepper spray, the lawsuit said.
The men continue talking, though many of the words are inaudible on the video, which was recorded from the street in front of Yahner’s home.
Turner said Yahner asked the men to leave his property and he did so, walking toward his truck. The two other bounty hunters, including Farley, remained, shining a flashlight on Yahner’s face.
‘This is going to be a situation’
Turner pointed out a spot on the video where he said Yahner appears to be shaking one of the bounty hunter’s hands, saying it was a sign that Yahner was calm. But the video is not clear. Yahner could also have been directing the man to turn his flashlight off, which the man did.
In the video, Yahner, after being handed a pair of shorts by his then-fiance, walks out of his entryway with hands up and stands near the truck of one of the bounty hunters parked in his driveway.
Yahner points to Farley and seems to be warning him against drawing his weapon again. “That’s called aggravated assault,” Yahner says to Farley, on the video. “I’ve got it holstered,” Farley responds.
Seconds later, in a radio transmission, Farley described Yahner as “hostile.”
Monica Guerin, Yahner’s then-fiancé, walked outside while on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. Turner said he heard her say that the man the bounty hunters were speaking with was the chief of police. Turner said he dropped his head.
“Now I know this is going to be a situation,” he said Friday as he watched the video again.
Phoenix police officers and detectives arrived and started interviewing everybody involved. Farley was handcuffed and arrested that night. Turner said he and his wife received their criminal complaints by mail a month later.
But even before that, Turner said his reputation as a security expert and bounty hunter was shot.
Turner said he had a stellar reputation in the tight-knit community. “I had people who said, ‘Greg can find them. Greg can get it done,’ ” he said. “Now it’s like: ‘Greg did the police chief thing.’”
An uncertain future
Turner said he and his wife took a plea deal in the criminal case rather than risk possible incarceration. Turner was also facing a felony conviction that would have ended his career as a bounty hunter.
While on probation, Turner could not carry a firearm, so he stopped working as a bounty hunter. He had started driving for the ride-sharing company Uber before the Yahner incident. Now that extra cash became a primary source of income.
Turner said he has slowly started to build up his bounty-hunter business again, though he said he might pursue jobs in other places besides Phoenix.
“I’m going to give Arizona a break for a while,” he said.
Turner said he questioned why Phoenix officers investigated the case. He also wondered whether county prosecutors were so aggressive with him because the case involved Yahner.
“I’m a little leery of the Phoenix Police Department,” Turner said. “Hopefully, that will change now that we have a new police chief.”
Turner said he had not met the new chief, Jeri Williams. He hopes to do so, but said with this chief, he will schedule an appointment.