By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
Butler and Shauna Wilson
It was Sunday morning, about the time people are leaving for church,
when a reporter rode down to Gannett with Bill Butler, a partner in Ketchum-based
Northwest Bail Bonds, Inc. Butler was looking for one of his clients, a man named Robert
Naber, who had missed a date with the Blaine County Courthouse the week before and then
had disappeareda "skip," in his professions lingo. Nobody knew where
Naber was, not even his parents, it seemed, though Butler thought it would be good idea to
drive down and knock on their door personally. Butlers day-to-day job activities,
its hard to deny, place him squarely in the category of Old West bounty hunter. If
he didnt find Naber and bring him back to jail within 90 days, Butler said, he and
his partner stood to lose $2,500.
Butler, 49, is soft-spoken, yet has the barrel-chested physique of a
pit bull. He doesnt drink and says his 10 p.m. bedtime makes it easier for him to
wake up for the late-night calls he often gets from people wanting bail. Hes never
worked in law enforcement, he says, but he was a bouncer at Whiskys and the
Roosevelt for awhile.
The day before, his partner had said Butler sometimes carries a
sledgehammer, a concealed pistol and handcuffs on this kind of job. Butler and his partner
considered the fugitive, Naber, a bad egg in the otherwise relatively tame world of Blaine
County bail bond agents. Surely, there would be some kind of struggle getting Naber back
Twenty years old, Naber (not his real name) had already spent one year
in the Blaine County jail. He had been arrested for trespassing, petit theft, possession
of drug paraphernalia, etc. Among other things, Butler said, Naber had robbed the till of
a local donut shop and broken into peoples houses.
In fact, Naber had become such a thorough pain in so many ways, Butler
added, that the local judge had threatened to sentence him to three consecutive one-year
terms in the county jail the next time he broke the law.
Compared to the state penitentiary, which features a library, gym and
other amenities, the Blaine County Jail is a "rat hole," Butler explained. Being
denied the "privilege" of serving a term in the pen instead of the jail is
considered an especially severe punishment.
During telephone conversations, Nabers mother had said that her
son had been "abused," even poisoned, by local sheriffs deputies during
his one-year incarceration, which of course, the sheriffs department denied. She
said that he threatened to commit suicide before he would go back. Otherwise, she
didnt know where he was, she insisted.
Through a dozen or more additional phone conversations, Butler had
learned that Naber had infuriated so many people that he didnt have any friends
"The kids a low life," Butler said, "everybody
To make matters worse, Butlers partner had not collected any
collateral on Naber when she had paid his way out of jail because he was a "local
kid," born and raised in the Wood River Valley. Naber had such strong ties in Hailey
and Ketchum, the reasoning went, it was unlikely he would skip and force Butler and Wilson
to forfeit the money they had paid the county.
Butler called this a "learning experience." It was the first
time in their four years of doing business together, Butler said, that they had failed to
get collateral on a person and that person had skipped.
Butler and his partner had recently learned that another bond agent in
Hailey was looking for Naber. Apparently, he had recently skipped bail on that agent for a
So Naber had caused a lot of trouble, for a lot of people, it seemed.
"I talked to the sheriff yesterday," Butler said, "and
he hopes I dont find himthey dont want him back." Again, a
statement the sheriffs department denied making.
Butler cruised the Gannetts unmarked streets, avoiding barking
dogs, stopping to knock on doors for directions. Eventually, he pulled into the gravel
parking area in front of an ancient trailer home. Somewhere far out in the fields, duck
hunters shotguns were booming.
The woman who answered the door identified herself as Megan Naber (not
her real name), Roberts mother. She said she wasnt surprised to see Butler and
that she had no idea where her son was. She invited him inside to talk to Roberts
father, John Naber (not his real name). She was recovering from brain surgery for cancer
and was on her way to church, she said.
John Naber is a fine-boned man who appears shorter than his wife. He
stood warming his back at a gas-fired stove, wearing a green baseball cap. Skunk and fox
pelts and antlers adorned the walls, while bundles of Christmas lights littered the brown
John Naber said he hadnt seen his son for over a month, since the
night before he was supposed to check into a drug rehab clinic. It was important that his
son turn himself in soon, Naber said; otherwise, he stood to lose the $500 he had paid to
help get Robert out of jail.
Butler explained that he and his partner were trying to help Robert. In
the past, they had provided temporary housing for their clients and had helped them to get
jobs. His partner, in particular, Butler said, was interested in helping people and was
good at it. In fact, she had maintained close personal friendships with some of her
Robert wasnt helping anybody with his hiding, Butler said.
"The longer he runs, the worse life will get for him."
To illustrate this point, Butler told the story of an Idaho man who
broke probation to visit his dying father in North Dakota. Several years later, the man
was pulled over for a dragging muffler, his identification was checked, and before long,
he was back in Idaho finishing the remainder of his sentence in jail.
"Eventually, thats going to happen to Robert," Butler
Naber said his son doesnt trust anyone in the law enforcement
system, and that he doesnt blame him. Naber was particularly wary of Blaine County
Sheriff Walt Femling, he said.
Robert is a drug addict, Naber said, but the court system is only
interested in incarcerating people, not helping them. As far as Naber was concerned, the
court system was to blame for his sons problems. Robert had only gotten worse, he
said, since first being arrested at age 16 for "sleeping in a laundromat and stealing
a corn dog."
In a final effort to get something useful out of the trip, Butler
suggested Naber allow his phone to be tapped by the sheriff so that Roberts location
could be traced if he called.
"Thats not something I would ever allow the police to
do," Naber said.
On the way home, Butler cruised past a house inside of which, he said,
cops had found Robert Naber trespassing a couple of weeks earlier. Then, a few days after
he had been caught trespassing there, the owner had let Naber back inside to make a phone
call. It didnt make sense, and Butler expressed his frustration this way: "Some
people, youd like to be able to knock the s
out of, but of course you
cant do that."
Even though she has the same birthday as her partner, Shauna Wilson
could not be more different from Butler. Tan and blonde, she moved to Ketchum from
Southern California five years ago, when she was 24, but still looks like she has been
hitting the beach every day.
"The guys down at the Sheriffs office call me Barbie
with a badge," she said jokingly.
Wilson shares an office in Ketchum with her husband, Roger, an
investment manager with a close eye on Wilsons bail bond agency. The two of them,
together with Butler, explained the ins and outs of their business.
The heart of todays bail bond system is an 1878 supreme court
ruling that allows a prisoner to be "delivered into the custody of his sureties (bail
bondsman)" as a continuance of his original imprisonment until trial. The ruling
gives the bondsman the right to pursue the prisoner into another state and to break and
enter his house for the purpose of recovering him. "Youre not out of
jail," Roger Wilson said. "Youre in our custody."
For the duration of that custody, a prisoner has even fewer rights than
he did in the clink. The prisoner must sign documents that remove nearly every conceivable
right he has to privacy. Most astonishingly, the prisoner must consent to the application
of physical restraint and the use of deadly force against himself to effect his own
The prisoner trades his rights for the freedom to await trial somewhere
other than behind bars. For assuming the risk of losing the bond, the agent charges a
10-percent commission and a $35 fee. So for Nabers $2,500 bail, Wilson and Butler
stood to make $285 if he appeared in court, or to lose $2,500 if he didnt.
Additionally, since the prisoner is in jail, the bond agent must do all
the legwork, including phone calls and finding collateral and indemnitors. After all that,
Butler said, "sometimes you make a profit."
Today, Wilson said, "the whole industry is kind of misinterpreted,
because it used to be run by ex-cons." Wilson thinks that image is changing, and that
the services a bail bond agent can provide are extending into rehabilitation, especially
in small towns and rural areas where there arent many hard-core murderers and
In the Wood River Valley, for example, Wilson bails out a lot of
"couch jumpers," or homeless young people, like Naber, who often have
substance-abuse problems and frequent run-ins with the law, and who sleep wherever they
can find a willing friend with a spare bed. For those people, Wilson has made it her duty
to provide a place to stay and to help find a job.
A "best-case scenario," Wilson said, was a 30-year-old local
man who was being held in Twin Falls last February for drug possession on a $15,000 bond.
Wilson said she spent five days contacting 23 of the mans friends and relatives, all
of whom warned her not to bail him out. Finally, she convinced the mans parents in
Massachusetts to put up their recreational vehicle as collateral. She let the man sleep in
her office for six months and found him a job waiting tables, at which he is still
working. Now, the mans parents call Wilson on a weekly basis to see how hes
For Naber, Wilson imagined a similar outcome. By the time Butler made
the trip down to Gannett, however, she said she had made a mistake.
Would she help Naber again? "No way," she said.
"There are some people you cant help," Butler added.
Three days after the Gannett trip, Wilson called the Idaho Mountain
Express. A friend of hers who knew Naber had seen him at the Racquet Club Apartments
in west Ketchum the day before. The friend invited Naber to her condominium, then called
," he reportedly said when they arrived. Naber
was back in jail.
Nabers case history shows arrests for no less than a dozen
offenses since 1995, including possession of drug paraphernalia, resisting arrest, theft,
battery, driving under the influence, reckless driving and other violations. Considering
Naber had been in jail for one year out of the previous four, he must have been arrested
every several months.
Going to jail, it seemed, didnt have an impact on Naber.
The visiting room at Blaine County Jail is about the size of a closet.
Visitors sit on a bench and talk to the prisoner through a telephone, while trying to
catch a glimpse of him through wire-reinforced glass and steel grating.
Naber wore a shocking-orange suit. The silhouette of his wild hair was
visible, and one of his eyes peered through one of the gratings diamond-shaped
Nabers attorney had told him not to discuss his present case with
anyone, but he did talk about the last time he was arrested. He said he had done one year
for petit theft and trespassing after stealing a badge and handcuffs from an officer.
His brother was living with a sheriffs deputy, Naber said, and he
and a friend stole the badge and handcuffs out of the deputys bedroom. Also, he
said, when he was arrested for stealing the corn dog and sleeping in a laundromat, he was
homeless and it was winter.
Naber said he has a drug problem and that he does "pot, coke,
crank, acid, whatevers available."
His father, he said, had enrolled him in the Walker Treatment Center in
Gooding, but one week before he was supposed to go, he started doing coke and crank again
and decided to skip the center. Now, he said, he lives at friends houses and
He said he didnt want to discuss any abuse he had experienced in
jail because sheriffs deputies would retaliate if they found out. But, he alleged, a
deputy had once punched him in the stomach while holding handcuffs like brass knuckles, an
allegation Sheriff Femling said is "absolutely false."
Like his father, Naber said the system was to blame for his ongoing
problems. He has been singled-out, he claimed, for unusually severe punishment, while drug
dealers and other felons go free.
Asked how he would change the system to make it better, he declared,
"They keep throwing me in here. Its a waste of their money."
Counseling might help, he said, but the only counseling hes ever
received was when he was sent to a psychiatric hospital in Boise for a week after he said
he "flipped-out" and threw a TV set during his one-year sentence.
Naber said he was kicked out of Wood River High School and, then,
Silver Creek Alternative School "for being a troublemaker."
When asked why he was a troublemaker, he said, "I dont think
Im a troublemaker."
If Naber goes to jail for the current charges against him, chances are
he wont do much while hes there besides sit and wait.
As far as seeing a social worker or counselor is concerned, "We
just arent set up for anything along those lines," Femling said. The
30-year-old county jail is short on space and funds, Femling added, "and a lot of the
time, thats where the system fails."
Femling also believes that with the average length of stay at only 14
days, the county jail is not the place for rehabilitation, though, by law, the
sheriffs department is required to provide medical care, including psychological
services, for prisoners.
With counselors charging an average of $125 an hour, that can be a real
drain on the jails budget. Whats worse, in Femlings view, is that some
prisoners take advantage of counseling when they dont really require it.
"If they need some help, they should be working on that,"
Femling said, "not just taking advantage of the system every time theyre in
jail. Weve had to take people down to Twin Falls for counseling, and then sit there
all day waiting for themits a lot of fun."
Femling agrees, however, that sitting in jail doing nothing isnt
very good for most prisoners, either; yet, mandatory minimum sentencing laws have
increased jail time in Blaine County in recent years. One example is the minimum one-year
sentence for a third-time DUI offender.
"A DUI would be better off with 180 days in a treatment
program," Femling said.
The Express did find one friend of Naber. She lived in the house
he had made the phone call from after being arrested there. She said Naberwas a friend of
her 17-year-old daughter.
Naber had never broken into her house, as far as she knew; rather, she
said she sometimes gave them food and clothing. "Kids are hungry, you feed
them," she said of her open-refrigerator policy.
She was surprised to hear Naber was 20 years oldshe thought he
As for the drugs and other problems he was having, "part of it is
where we live," she said. "Theres no place for kids to go. Hes
bored. He needs to break the chain."
As for Wilson, shes currently excited about a new bail bond
agency shes opening in Jackson Hole. Asked if she had any more work to do as far as
Naber was concerned, she replied, "Nothing. Our job is done."