Local, state and federal police forces in the West continue to harass members of the Vagos Motorcycle Club with marginal or unwarranted prosecutions.
The prosecutions, which have popped up over a wide geographic area ranging from California to Kansas, appear to be coordinated. They are obviously being brought as a form of defacto punishment for the non-crime of belonging to the wrong motorcycle club. The cases have not generally resulted in convictions but they have forced defendants to hire lawyers and defend themselves. Sometimes the prosecutions are unethical.
In the last month, a Las Vegas lawyer named Melanie Hill eviscerated a multi-state, multi-departmental undercover investigation called Operation Pure Luck. In Sacramento, the FBI announced it had brought charges after what seems to have been a years long investigation of Vagos there. And on August 15 a couple of Santa Maria, California lawyers named Mark Powers and Thomas Allen and a Los Angeles lawyer named Jeff Voll won the dismissal of charges against three Vagos in Santa Barbara. Those Vagos were among five people charged 17 months ago with possessing concealed firearms and participating in a criminal street gang while in possession of concealed firearms. Both of those charges carried gang enhancements.
The Santa Barbara Arrests
The arrests were well publicized and allowed news outlets that covered the story to report: “The FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the California Attorney General’s Office have each named the Vagos Motorcycle Club an outlaw motorcycle gang;” and “the Vagos Motorcycle Club, which originated in San Bernardino County in the 1960s, has conducted criminal activity that has included distributing methamphetamine, money laundering, insurance fraud, witness intimidation, murder and extortion.”
On March 15, 2013 a small pack of Vagos from San Luis Obispo County was travelling on California Highway 154 when the riders were stopped by the California Highway Patrol and released. Highway 154 is a picturesque, mountain road that connects San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County. The CHP alerted the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office that the pack was headed south. The first Deputy Sheriff to spot the pack radioed his fellow Deputies “Here come the freaks.”
At the junction of Highway 154 and Highway 101, which in Southern California is often called the “Ventura Highway,” the last motorcyclist in the pack ran a red light. When he was stopped the rest of the pack including chase cars pulled over to the right shoulder and waited.
In a press release issued two days later the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office described the stop like this:
“As a result of routine enforcement and investigation activities, members of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Gang Enforcement Unit arrested five people who are allegedly associated with a local chapter of an outlaw motorcycle gang, based out of San Luis Obispo County. All five individuals were arrested for firearms related charges, in conjunction with criminal street gang enhancements.
“The arrests followed a traffic stop near the intersection of Highway 154 at Highway 101 around 8 p.m. Friday night. The five motorcycle riders were observed traveling together. Members of the Sheriff’s Gang Enforcement Unit conducted a traffic enforcement stop upon observing two of the motorcycle riders fail to stop at a red light.
“During the traffic stop, the three additional motorcycle riders stopped in the middle of the highway, apparently to wait for the members of their group who were subject to the traffic enforcement stop by law enforcement.
“The riders were all wearing insignia related to the Vagos Motorcycle Club, a known Outlaw Motorcycle Gang.”
An Alternative Version
What actually happened was that Deputies searched a chase car, found a baseball bat and used that discovery as justification for searching everyone else who had stopped.
“During the course of the traffic enforcement stop, Detectives from the Gang Enforcement Unit found concealed semi-automatic handguns within the motorcycle saddlebags of the individuals who were contacted,” the Sheriff’s Office press release explained. The arrestees included the president of the Vagos San Luis Obispo chapter and his wife.
However the search was illegal because police had no probable cause to conduct it and none of the Vagos consented to be searched. The police lied about that. The entire stop was videotaped by four police cars. The video ran for 10 minutes and 26 seconds but police erased the 52 seconds that recorded the illegal search. The Deputy District Attorney assigned to the case knew the tape had been erased and that the search was illegal. But he didn’t drop his case until Powers, Allen and Voll confronted him about the tampered evidence.