Mom spends her days hunting fugitives

News4Jax goes behind the scenes of the bail bond business

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Joanna Peterson of Willing to Bond Bail Bonds and Fugitive Recovery Team became a bondsman years ago with a goal to help people.  

“I just believe helping people all the way around,” explained Peterson. “I’m helping them get out of jail, helping them get back to their family so they can get their life in order so they have time to get everything in order for court."

Peterson said most of her clients follow through on their promise. They pay 10 percent of their bond to get out of jail and then appear in court for his or her hearing(s). 

“We are here for them. If they miss a court date, we can try to get them another one. They just need to call us and tell us,” she explained. “I let them know that I don’t sleep at night when I have bonds that fail to appear, I will lose sleep.”

 If someone fails to appear, the court or the judge issues a warrant for his/her arrest. If the person has not been found within 59 days, the bail bond company must pay the entire bond amount to the court.  

For example, if a client’s bond is $10,000, then he/she pays $1,000 to get out of jail. If that person does not appear, the bail bond company must pay the court the full $10,000.

Peterson, who is the mother of five children, said the majority of the fugitives she has arrested, are clients of other bail bondsmen, who have called her for help. 

‘Lately, it’s been a lot of DUIs, driving without a license, simple stuff,” she said. “In the past, it used to be something major like drug charges or carrying a weapon by a convicted felon, but lately it’s been simple misdemeanors.” 

A person who does not attend his/her court hearing will be charged with failure to appear, which can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the original charge.

Peterson said she doesn’t understand why someone who is facing a misdemeanor charge would risk additional charges and more jail time, but she said it happens all the time.

Peterson, her stepson Stacy, and her intern Eric Johnson, all work together to track down fugitives.

Chris Burgett

Chris Burgett is one of those fugitives. He was supposed to appear in court for a battery charge, but failed to show up in April.  He was arrested last year accused of punching a woman in the face at a bar after a dispute involving his cell phone.  He was also charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence.  

Another bondsman asked Peterson to find Burgett. They use a national database to track last known addresses and relatives, but did not want to elaborate on the techniques they use to avoid making it harder to find fugitives.  

They arrested Burgett at a gas station on Melvin Road on the Westside of Jacksonville. News4Jax cameras recorded video of the bail bonds agents jumping out of two separate undercover cars and pulling Burgett out of the backseat of another vehicle that was next to one of the station’s gas pumps.  

Sherry Hill

Sherry Hill was wanted in Nashville, Tennessee for a charge of child abuse.  Peterson and her crew, found the 60-year-old grandmother hiding in a mobile home off Main Street on Jacksonville’s Northside.  

“A family had let her move in three days earlier and they had no clue that she was wanted for child abuse,” explained Peterson. “She said she never meant to hurt her grandbaby. She told them to sit down in the chair and they didn’t listen.  

The child’s head hit a china cabinet and needed to get stitches,” said Peterson, who told News4Jax Hill had been hiding in Jacksonville for about a year. Hill was arrested without incident and sent back to Tennessee.

Erica Sanchez

Erica Sanchez was wanted here in Jacksonville for violating her probation on a charge of driving under the influence. She failed to appear for her court hearing. We're told Sanchez had been on the run for at least five months.  

“We just missed her at her job,” explained Peterson, who said they usually can find someone within seven days, but Sanchez took longer.  “We ended up getting her at her family’s (house), she was not happy to see us."

Nader Rayan

A bail bondsman asked Peterson for help finding the former manager of Beaches Memorial Park and First Coast Funeral home in Atlantic Beach. Rayan was arrested after a 13-month investigation by the I-TEAM that revealed more than 70 complaints against the cemetery/funeral home.  

Many involved accusations that Rayan overcharged families for funeral services and/or paid for grave markers that were never installed. Peterson, her step-son, and Eric Johnson found Rayan hiding out in the attic of his Arlington home.  

WATCH: Bail bonds agents find Nader Rayan hiding

They kicked in the front door, which they are legally allowed to do. Peterson said when someone signs a contract with a bail bond agent, it legally allows the bail bondsman to search a home for that person, without a judge issuing a search warrant.

Tyron Wimberly

A bail bondsman from Georgia saw Peterson’s arrest of Nader Rayan last month on News4Jax and called Peterson for help finding Tyron Wimberly.  Peterson said Wimberly had 10 outstanding arrest warrants in Leon and Gadsden Counties in Florida and was also wanted in Georgia.

According to Peterson, Wimberly is accused of several crimes including putting fake credit card readers on gas pumps to steal credit card numbers and two counts of theft by receiving stolen property from another state. She learned he might be hiding in a home in Quincy, Florida.  

“We always notify the police department to let them know we are in their town in case they want to go along.  They wanted to since they knew him and had been to his house three or four times. Every time they’d go there, he would take off in the woods and run,” she explained.  

Peterson and Johnson kicked in the door early one morning and found Wimberly hiding in one of the rooms. She said the lights in the home were knocked out and so was the air conditioning.  It was pitch black when they forced their way in.  

Two Quincy police officers and a K9 followed them.  Peterson and Johnson were wearing News4Jax GoPro cameras, which recorded their search of the home and Wimberly’s arrest.

WATCH: Tyron Wimberly taken into custody (Warning: intense video and language)

Johnson and a police officer deployed their Tasers when they said Wimberly refused to follow their commands.  He requested a hospital evaluation and was then transported to jail.  

Dangers of the job

Peterson said before she leaves to make an arrest, she prays.  She said she also tells her kids she loves them, who range in age from four to 22 years old.  

Peterson, her stepson and Johnson, know the work is dangerous. She said recently, they tried to arrest a man wanted for battery and, in the middle of traffic, he pulled a gun on Johnson as they approached the car. That man is now charged with aggravated assault.  

Peterson and her crew carry Tasers and wear bullet-proof vests.  She does have a concealed weapons permit, and while she would not elaborate as to whether she and her employees are armed at all times, she said, “We are always going to come prepared because we have no clue what’s going to happen.”  

Peterson said she considers her clients innocent until proven guilty, and she does what she can to help them get their lives back together.  

“I help a lot of my customers put together job resumes.  We are not here just to collect their money and take off.  We are here to make sure they get what they need to get back into society,” she explained.  

But she added, if they don't show up for their court hearings, she will find them.

“Just be ready for us to kick in your door at any point or apprehend you in the middle of a party or even a funeral or a wedding.  If you run, you just have to be prepared for us to come and find you,” Peterson warned.   

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