Dog the Bounty Hunter’s Daughter Is Taking on America’s Criminal Justice System
Bonnie Chapman’s activism has not only made her a target online, but also damaged the relationship with her father—who she has not spoken to since joining a new reality show.
It would be an understatement to say the police murder of George Floyd last May rattled the nation; it upended it. People could no longer ignore America’s long, dark history of unchecked police brutality and racial injustice after the world watched Floyd’s last breath being pressed out of him by a white officer.
It also served as a wakeup call for Bonnie Chapman, the daughter of Dog the Bounty Hunter, the brash former bail bondsman who tracked down on-the-run criminals for a living. She began participating in protests in Denver and devoted her sizable social media platform to speaking out on various social justice issues, including systemic racism, LGBTQ rights, the surge of violence against the AAPI community, and even YouTuber James Charles.
The 22-year-old has now gone a step further, joining the reality show The System on Unleashed Entertainment’s new crime and justice streaming service, TVUnleashed. The raw series follows a group of young adults as they become activists, join protests, and work to eradicate the failings of America’s criminal justice system.
“I decided, I have a voice and it shouldn’t be muted,” Bonnie tells The Daily Beast. “I have to use it especially when there is such injustice. I’ve always been kind of a scaredy cat, honestly. I thought it was time to stop living my life in fear of what other people say.”
That fear mainly came from publicly breaking with the ideology of much of her family’s fan base, who often have conservative political beliefs, Bonnie explains. “I was very scared of the reactions from those who have seen me growing up and further reactions to how I have grown up,” she says. “I think that people expect me to believe what they believe. I am my own person and I make my own decisions about my groups, my politics.”
So, when she began openly supporting Black Lives Matter and resharing tweets that criticized former president Donald Trump, Bonnie was attacked online by fans. And when she joined The System, it damaged her relationship with her 68-year-old father.
In fact, Bonnie hasn’t spoken with him since informing him she’d be appearing on the show. She isn’t even sure when she’ll be hearing from him again, describing their overall relationship as “OK.”
“We don’t talk very often,” she admits.
Everything came to a head when Bonnie auditioned for the show about two weeks ago, she says, and was told by the crew that she should probably inform her father, real name Duane Chapman, that she was in the process of joining the series.
In late March, the digital network announced it had cancelled Chapman’s upcoming show Dog Unleashed before it even aired, citing a breach of contractual agreements. In a statement at the time, Unleashed Entertainment said, “We stand for equality and justice, and we will not be associated with projects that are not congruent with these values. Though it saddens us to part ways, we cannot in good conscience continue to work with those who do not share our values.”
The company later sued a Colorado-based cannabis company that Chapman was working with, accusing the reality star of piggybacking off the marketing from his canceled show to produce Dog Unleashed CBD. Unleashed Entertainment claimed the $100,000 that the partnership had raked in were “ill-gotten profits.”
The network finally gave a fuller picture for why it had parted ways with Chapman this month, claiming they investigated an allegation that he made racist and homophobic remarks about some of the cast members on The System—the same show his daughter would eventually be a part of.
Bonnie said she was completely unaware of Chapman’s remarks when she auditioned for the show, only learning after meeting with the crew. Bonnie, who announced she was pansexual in 2019, declined to disclose exactly what Chapman said, but admitted she found his alleged comments offensive.
“I don’t want to misquote him, put words into his mouth,” she explains. “I was made aware of some comments, they might have been a generalized version of what he said. I don’t want to put that out there if I’m not 100 percent sure.”
This is not the first time Chapman has faced accusations of making racist remarks and put his television career in jeopardy. In 2007, his Dog the Bounty Hunter show on A&E was temporarily suspended when his son Tucker leaked an audio recording to The National Enquirer, where Chapman repeatedly said the N-word while discussing how he didn’t want his son to date a Black woman.
“It’s not because she’s Black,” Chapman says in the taped phone call. “It’s because we use the word n****r sometimes here. I’m not going to take a chance ever in life of losing everything I’ve worked for, for 30 years, because some n****r heard us say n****r and turned this into the Enquirer magazine. Our career is over. I’m not taking that chance at all, never in life, never. Never, never. It’s not that they’re Black. It’s none of that. It’s that we use the word n****r. We don’t mean you scum n****r without a soul. We don’t mean that shit. But America would think we mean that.”
Despite the damning audio, A&E eventually put the show back on-air after a brief hiatus and Chapman apologized.
Bonnie wants to make clear that she does not condone her father’s racist remarks, either then or now. “That was a hard time and it’s just something that will never go away,” she says, speaking of the 2007 tape. “I want to show people that it is not me. That is someone completely different. My father’s actions are his own, and my actions are my own.”
“Just because he is my father, that does not mean that I have his views, that does not mean that I have this path,” she stresses. “I love my father, no matter what he thinks, even if his beliefs disagree with mine. I think he's a good man who went through a horrendous trauma,” she adds, speaking of her mother Beth’s death from cancer in 2019.
“I don’t think he will ever be the same, but that’s okay. As long as he grows and takes accountability for growing as a person.”
Bonnie says she has had previous conversations with her dad about Black Lives Matter and the police killing of Floyd, saying he agrees that his death was a result of unchecked police brutality.
“It’s hard to have those conversations, but the things that are hardest for us to do are the things that are the most important,” she says. “Speaking to our parents and those who we love about these things, is only going to do well for those who may be uneducated or may be afraid to speak what they really think. These conversations help the people around you realize that not only are you passionate, but you are an ally, and you are there to learn.”
Bonnie is self-admittedly slightly embarrassed about how long it has taken for her to become a public ally for those less privileged than her, recalling how she felt outraged when Trayvon Martin was shot dead by George Zimmerman in 2012.
“I wasn’t completely aware, especially growing up in Hawaii, I wasn’t completely aware of the police brutality and how it can affect so many people,” she says. “Every day there are Black people who are scared at a traffic stop or scared they are going to be pulled over. I was completely oblivious to [police brutality] for quite some time, which I’m kind of embarrassed to say.”
“I remember feeling this shouldn’t have happened, but yet it did,” she recalls of hearing about Martin’s death in school. “There was no justice for him. That’s something that was really upsetting for me, because there is a family that no longer has their child.”
But after the police killing of Floyd, Bonnie was compelled to act. “With George Floyd specifically, it really called me,” she says. “I have an obligation to use my voice for those who may be silenced. That is what I feel I need to do. I want to be a voice and help those who may have been silenced.”