The suspect may have gotten away for the time being, but that happens sometimes, explains Duane “Dog” Chapman as he sits in the Perkins Restaurant and Bakery on South 20th Street West Saturday evening.
The bounty hunter and reality television star, his wife, Beth Chapman, and their entourage have been in town several days shooting an episode for their Country Music Television show “Dog and Beth: On The Hunt.” Their previous TV show was titled “Dog the Bounty Hunter.”
This season of the show will feature 13 one-hour shows which air Sunday nights on CMT. The Billings episode is expected to air in September.
The suspect that Dog and his crew have been chasing on foot, Jason Bradley Mize, had skipped bail and ran away from them earlier in the day, Dog said.
His signature blond hair is falling over his leathery shoulders, and he’s wearing a bulletproof vest with nothing under it, camo pants and boots.
“If you miss ‘em, you miss ‘em, and if you get ‘em, you get ‘em,” he said, looking a little haggard after the day’s work. “In this reality show, it’s real.”
But he’s confident that with the help of the community and local law enforcement, his group will be able to track the man down.
“All he does all day — allegedly, allegedly — is steal because he’s wanted,” Dog said of the suspect. “He’s a good burglar and a good thief — allegedly — OK? That’s the word on the street.”
He wouldn’t say much else about the Billings episode of the show, citing contract agreements and a desire not to spook any suspects.
Dog stops and grabs the radio strapped to his vest. A member of his entourage is saying something about a medic.
“I don’t got nothin’ wrong with me,” Dog says. “I don’t need the paramedic. I’m fine.”
“No, I’m asking to see the paramedic,” comes a voice over the radio.
“Oh, OK,” Dog says, turning to a nearby member of his crew. “Sonny, get the paramedic to go see Louie.”
Back into the radio, he says, “OK, I’m sending him to you, brother.”
Then Dog’s right back in conversation.
“We’re all banged up. All of us. Not me though,” he said with a wicked grin.
According to Dog, the premise of the new show is loosely that he and his wife are visiting towns in as many states as possible, where they team up with and mentor local bounty hunters and bondsmen.
Dog, Beth and their crew are working with Western Pawnbrokers owner Andy Nelson and local bounty hunter John Briggs.
“They were looking for a segment where there was a bondsman and pawn shop combo,” Nelson said recently.
Briggs moved to Billings a year ago and said he’s always been a fan of Dog and Beth.
“They’ve been doing this a long time and I never stop learning,” Briggs said. “I feel they would be phenomenal in teaching me that stuff.”
Back in Perkins, Dog explained that cops appreciate that he shows bounty hunters that they don’t need to use guns — or at least not lethal rounds — to stop suspects.
“The stuff I carry will drop a mule,” he said, explaining that he’s been trained in using “pepper ball guns.”
“And, I mean, that drops you,” he said. “The police like the fact that we’re not out there — how do I say it — like Clint-Eastwood-'make-my-day' guys.”
Calling himself the only freelance bounty hunter in Billings, Briggs works with three other people who mine data off of Facebook and Google, phone books and private databases that bounty hunters subscribe to.
“I would say we probably catch, on average, depending on who jumps, 150 to 175 cases per year,” he said, which is about a 75 percent recovery rate.
Briggs and his team are paid a percentage of the bond, which he declined to reveal.
For a quarter century, Nelson has been a pawnbroker at the business that his father started at 2817 Montana Ave., a store with the usual pawn property from turquoise-and-silver jewelry, guns, tools, dirt bikes, bicycles and more.
To the left of the entrance is the window where people in trouble with the law can post bond to stay out of jail.
If someone skips out, Nelson has 90 days to catch them. He posts their picture on the wall, which often generates tips from customers.
Nelson has personally arrested about 10 bail jumpers over the past quarter century.
The second-generation pawn shop owner remembers one dash down Broadwater Avenue in his Birkenstocks.
He was going to arrest a bail jumper in the store, but she begged him not to handcuff her in front of her friends. Nelson agreed, but as they walked to the door, she bolted.
“I ran her down when she hit a parked car and went down,” he said. “I cuffed her and took her in.”
Another time, someone told him that a woman featured on his wall was drinking at a bar two blocks away. Nelson, who carries cuffs in his car, drove down to find her.
“I cuffed a gal at the Rainbow Bar, but I had to move my daughter’s car seat out of the way last year to make room in the car,” Nelson said.
Sitting in the restaurant, Dog said that camera crews don’t actually slow down his bounty hunting work.
“You get used to it,” he says. “It doesn’t hurt us at all.”
Revealing a microphone on his vest, he added, “If this isn’t on me, I’m not employed.”
He claims that having cameras around actually helps sometimes, pointing out that folks don’t want to commit crimes on camera.
“You going to kill us on camera? Go ahead, because you’re going to prison for life, or some in states you’re going to go to the death.”
And some people they detain claimed they’ve been beaten, which he said he can prove isn’t true.
“We roll back the tapes and there’s no hitting and beating and all that s---, so really we take it as our advantage,” he said.
Dog said many of the things one might expect him to say about why he and his crew came to Billings.
“It’s just a great place to be, right? It’s Big Sky Country, and there’s bears here. And there’s Native Americans here. I love it,” said Dog, who is half Native American.
“I’d like to open up an office here, plus they called us and said ‘Dog, we need some help. We’ve got a bunch of (bail) jumps here.’ This was one of the dreams we had, was to come to Montana. You know, who doesn’t want to come to Montana?”