Eagle Nation Cycles in Neenah, Wisconsin and four individuals have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Neenah, its police department, its police chief, one of the city’s police captains and the judge who signed the search warrant that authorized a Swat raid on the shop in September 2012.
“The warrant laid out claims against Eagle Nation, claiming the facility was being used in a complex drug manufacturing and distribution operation in conjunction with the Hells Lovers motorcycle gang and suggested activities and persons in the facility as if it were an episode of the television series, Sons of Anarchy,” the suit alleges.
The Swat Raid
The complaint states: “On Friday, September 21, 2012 shortly after 1:00 PM members of the Neenah Police Department, the Neenah Swat Team and the LWAMEG (Lake Winnebago Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group) executed the warrant for ‘Eagle Nation Choppers’ on all of the facilities located at the 206 Main St. business complex. Supervising the raid was Neenah Police Chief Kevin E. Wilkinson. The hyper-militarized force parked an arnored tank-like vehicle outside of Eagle Nation, stormed the building, bombarding the occupants with assault weapons drawn, screaming profanities and abuse, all while wearing plain clothes (ununiformed) and facemasks. None of the initial officers that entered the building were wearing marked police uniforms. Several of the Officers involved in the raid, including Captain Long would have known that such force was wholly unnecessary, given their close personal and long-standing working relationship with (bike shop owner Steven) Erato and Eagle Nation Cycles.”
The warrant was issued after members of the Metropolitan Enforcement Group “observed an alleged drug exchange take place in the alleyway located behind Eagle Nation Cycles…and Gords Pub…. After pulling the car over that was involved in the exchange, MEG determined that a small heroin sale took place.”
“Officers claimed that the target went into Eagle Nation.”
“Inspection of the location reveals that from where affiant was standing, it is a physical impossibility to see the rear entrance of Eagle Nation. This would be known to anyone even remotely familiar with this area of Neenah, Wisconsin.”
Neenah in The News
Neenah has a population of about 25,000. The Neenah Swat Team and its many implements of war including a “nine-foot-tall armored truck…intended for an overseas battlefield” was the subject of a feature story by Matt Apuzzo in the New York Times Last June titled “War Gear Flows to Police Departments.”
“When the military’s mine-resistant trucks began arriving in large numbers last year, Neenah and places like it were plunged into the middle of a debate over whether the post-9/11 era had obscured the lines between soldier and police officer,” Apuzzo wrote.
In the Times feature, Police Chief Wilkinson defended the militarization of his department. “I don’t like it. I wish it were the way it was when I was a kid,” he said. But he said the possibility of violence, however remote, required taking precautions. “We’re not going to go out there as Officer Friendly with no body armor and just a handgun and say ‘Good enough.’”
Eagle Nation Cycles and the other complainants are seeking $50 million in punitive damages, $200,000 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in lost income.