Mistaken identity murder in Clarksville raises concerns about bond industry

This combo of booking photos released by the Clarksville, Tenn., Police Department shows, top row from left, William L. Byles, Kenneth Chiasson, Antwon D. Keesee and Jonathan Schnepp; bottom row from left, Roger D. West, Prentice L. Williams and Joshua Young. Tennessee police say the seven bounty hunters and bail bondsmen have been indicted on first-degree murder and other charges in the killing of an unarmed man and the wounding of another. Authorities say 24-year-old Jalen Johnson and another man were wounded April 23, 2017, after the bounty hunters and bail bondsmen confronted Johnson and his three friends in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Clarksville, Tenn. Police said that neither Johnson nor his three friends had outstanding warrants. (Clarksville Police Department via AP)

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Seven men who are either bondsmen or bounty hunters are facing first-degree murder charges for shooting and killing a man they believed to be a wanted fugitive.

Jalen Johnson, also known as Jalen Johnson-Milan, died after one of the men opened fire on a car he was riding in on April 23.

Antwon Keesee, William Byles, Jonathan Schnepp, Joshua Young, Roger West, Prentice Williams and Kenneth Chiasson were indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury this past Monday and Tuesday. See their mug shots at the bottom of this story.

Each is charged with attempted especially aggravated kidnapping, first-degree felony murder, aggravated assault, especially aggravated kidnapping, attempted second-degree murder, employing a firearm in commission of a dangerous felony, and felony reckless endangerment.

Jalen Johnson (Courtesy: The Johnson family)

The men were reportedly searching for William Harvey Ellis, 28, who has five General Sessions capias, one Criminal Court capias, and one violation of probation warrant. Ellis is still wanted on those charges and is not in custody as of the publishing of this article.

Daniel Dugger, a former bail bondsman in Davidson County, said the bond industry serves an important public service, but it needs more regulation to prevent incidents like Johnson’s murder.

“Of course my heart went out to the individual who lost his life and his family,” Duggar said. “By and large, those types of incidents don’t occur. This was an isolated incident.”

He continued, “If the industry was more regulated, the legislature could point to the industry and say, ‘These guys are out here doing whatever they want,’ and have a way to remedy the situation.”

Currently, professional bondsmen are required to submit to a background check with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, a drug test, apply to the court for approval to work in each judicial district they plan to post bonds in, and complete eight hours of continuing education every year.

“Take Arkansas for example. They must take and pass a test on the laws of the state,” Dugger said. “Anyone who hires a bondsman in Arkansas knows with a great deal of certainty that the person is intimately familiar with the laws of that state.”

He continued, “As far as anything anyone can point to in Tennessee to say a person is familiar with the laws concerning bounty hunting like whether or not we can enter this property and whether or not we can pursue them in a car like the police is lacking.”

Bounty hunters have even fewer regulations.

They cannot be convicted felons and must be working for a professional bail bondsmen.

News 2 went to Keesee Bonding Company where Antwon Keesee works as a bondsman. A woman who identified herself as a relative of Keesee declined to comment on the charges against him.

She said the business is still open but did not know how Keesee’s arrest would affect his ability to work as a bondsman if he is released on bail.

All seven men are tentatively scheduled for arraignment in Circuit Court on June 8 in front of Judge Bill Goodman.

Three of them– West, Young, and Chiasson–have requested bond reductions, and their bond reduction hearing is tentatively scheduled for May 26.

News 2 also learned Friday that three of the men—West, Williams, and Chiasson—aren’t licensed like they’re supposed to be. We checked with the state licensing board and the Montgomery County clerk’s office; there was nothing on file for all three.