From Breonna Taylor to Andre Hill to Stephon Clark to Atatiana Jefferson to Amir Locke to Kathryn Johnston, we’ve heard plenty of stories about Black people killed by police after cops approached them and opened fire before their victims even had a chance to assess that officers of the law were the people breaking into their homes or running up on them. Now, there’s a new twist on the same story type, and in this one, the cops weren’t cops, they were bounty hunters in plain clothes and unmarked cars who opened fire on their Black male target, who some say was the victim of an ambush.
According to Fox 26, 31-year-old Walter Hutchins was shot and killed on April 23 in Houston, Texas, by bounty hunters attempting to execute a warrant at around 10:30 p.m.
The bounty hunters have not been arrested for his death.
Civil rights and personal injury attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard, and the family of Walter Hutchins held a press conference Tuesday in front of the Harris County Civil Courthouse demanding Hutchins’ killers be arrested.
During the press conference, while on-goers held up signs that read ‘Justice For Walter’, Ben Crump stood firmly in front of reporters and demanded action from anyone who would listen.
“What we do know is private citizens, even if you categorize them as bounty hunters, can’t be the judge, the jury, and the executioner,” said Crump to reporters. “That’s why we’re here, saying, proclaiming, and demanding justice for Walter.”
Bob Hilliard then questioned the intentions of the bounty–whether or not the hunters would have received incentive even if Hutchins was killed.
“They sat their fox six hours instead of calling the Houston Police Department and inviting them to arrest Walter is because their bounty was contingent doing the arrest–doing the retention,” said Hilliard “What’s going to be interesting to find out is does the bounty care whether you bring them in dead or alive.”
The bounty hunters, of course, claim they announced themselves and it was Hutchins who fired first, but surveillance video posted to Instagram by famed Houston Music Executive J Prince has many people wondering how the hell anyone could believe Hutchins was given sufficient time to understand what was even happening when two men with no badges or uniforms aggressively approached him in the dead of night.
“They never gave him a chance, they never gave him a warning to know that they were any type of authority figure,” Prince said.
What can be seen in the video is Hutchins walking to his car when two vehicles block him in just before two men jump out and run up to him. Moments later, shots were fired.
“It was a real ambush, all he had an opportunity to do was put his car in reverse, and you can clearly see gunshots entering the car,” Prince said in explaining that the bounty hunters never should have approached Hutchins like that late at night in an area where robberies and carjackings are common.
Even if it’s true that Hutchins shot first, the fact is Black civilians don’t get to use “I was in fear for my life” as a justification for reflexively opening fire (not that he even survived to tell his side of the story). That’s an excuse reserved exclusively for cops and others who just shot a Black person dead under suspicious circumstances. (This also makes it kind of ironic that the two bounty hunters reportedly work for a bond provider called Fearless Bail Bonds.)
Christopher Powell, a private investigator with A-Mobile Bail Bonds who has spent more than a decade tracking and taking down fugitives, told Fox 26 that he would have done things much differently if he were sent after Hutchins.
“I make sure we’re properly identifiable,” Powell said. “We have badges, we have our vest, they have patches on them that show what we are.”
“The area they’re in is Fifth Ward and obviously it’s late at night, just running up on someone in plain clothes, they don’t know what’s going on,” he continued. “They don’t know if you’re gang-affiliated, if you’re doing a robbery, if you’re about to steal their car.”
Houston police said the investigation into Hutchins’ death is still ongoing and that findings of the investigation will be presented to the District Attorney’s Office, which will decide what, if any, charges the bounty hunters will face.