In early June 2011, a guy named James Bauman who at the time was the Public Information Officer for the Lake County, California Sheriff’s Office, issued a press release that began:
“A member of the Vagos outlaw motorcycle gang has been brutally beaten by a group of full-patched members of the Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle gang during a tattoo conference at the Konocti Vista Resort and Casino.
“On Saturday, June 4th at approximately 1:20 pm, sheriff’s deputies responded to the Konocti Vista Casino after security reported that four to five Hells Angels were involved in a physical fight. Deputies arrived within minutes of the call and stopped a group of fully patched Hells Angels who were walking out of the resort’s conference center.
“As the group of Hells Angels were telling deputies that they knew nothing about a fight, resort security personnel alerted deputies to a green SUV leaving the resort that was reportedly occupied by the victim. The green SUV was stopped by deputies a short distance from the resort. The passenger in the SUV, identified as 39-year-old Michael Anthony Burns of Lakeport, was bleeding about the head and face, his face was swollen and he had a laceration under his right eye. Burns however, denied being involved in any altercation and alleged that his injuries occurred as the result of a ‘fall.’
“Although Burns was a known validated member of the Vagos motorcycle gang, a rival club of the Hells Angels, he was released from further detention since he adamantly denied being assaulted. The group of Hells Angels also left the resort.”
Nevertheless, because the alleged incident involved members of two brand name motorcycle clubs various law enforcement agencies were eager to make a case. “Deputies,” Baumann said, “reviewed footage from the resort’s security surveillance system” and “worked into the night” to find something for which they could arrest somebody.
In Baumann’s version, the motive for all this dedicated police work was public safety. Although no member of the general public ever seemed to be in danger, Baumann “reminded” the world “that the Hells Angels and the Vagos have a documented history of extreme violence and retaliation. Based on that history, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office expects retaliation and further acts of violence.”
The release included photographs of Vagos and Angels and Baumann told those whom he had pledged to protect and serve that “the patches depicted in the pictures are typical of these gangs. Individuals wearing these patches are members of these outlaw motorcycle gangs and should be considered dangerous.” Interestingly, the photograph of Hells Angels Baumann chose to include with his release depicted members of the club in Germany – which is very far from California.
The Story Continues
Eventually the FBI joined the investigation. Three alleged members of the Hells Angels Sonoma charter named Timothy R. Bianchi, Nicholas F. Carrillo and Josh L. Johnson were arrested and charged with battery and fighting in public and a grand drama ensued.
Superstar outlaw biker authority Jorge Gil-Blanco was booked to testify at trial. Prosecutors, as is the custom in biker cases, hid potentially exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys. One of the facts prosecutors hid was that the Lake County Sheriff at the time of the fight, Frank Rivero, had a documented history of lying under oath. Defenders raised the possibility that the incident had been provoked by a Vago who was working as an informant for the local sheriff. The charges against the defendants were amended to include a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon which made possible a “gang enhancement.”
Eventually the case became politically toxic. The original judge in the case, Stephen Hedstrom recused himself because, he said, he had discussed the case with someone outside the court. Because of what is practically inbreeding between judges and cops in Lake County, a judge named Andrew Blum felt compelled to quit the case in 2013. Then a judge named Richard Martin refused to hear the case when his son, Brian Martin, ran for Lake County Sheriff. Last week a fourth judge named Robert L. Crone quit the case citing his “long term friendship” with Judge Martin.
But the case continues. The three defendants are still charged with feloniously attacking a man who refused to file charges against them. They are still stuck with a gang enhancement. There may yet be a trial. Gil-Blanco may yet testify.
The obvious question would seem to be why.