The American Outlaws Association is contesting the forfeiture of three club owned, cutoff vests as part of an assault case in McHenry County, Illinois. McHenry County is northwest of Chicago and east of Rockford. The cuts were seized during early morning raids on January 31, 2013 along with five handguns, five rifles, ammunition, brass knuckles, two switch blade knives, a black jack , a quarter ounce of marijuana, a gram of cocaine, a very small spoon and some rolling papers.
The case started when five men wearing Outlaws indicia (which is the legal term for indicators that the men were club members) and a woman wering a “property of” patch walked into a bar called the Lizard Lounge in unincorporated Wonder Lake, Illinois on November 30, 2012. In a press release, announcing the arrests, McHenry County Sheriff Keith Nygren said the “motorcycle club members went to the tavern looking for a specific person.”
According to testimony in the forfeiture hearing last Friday, a half dozen mellow people were in the bar at the time, singing along with a karaoke machine, dancing and getting pleasantly numb. The Outlaws entered and were belligerant. Two men were punched, knocked down and kicked. The woman who accompanied the five men allegedly spat beer in another woman’s face and threw her across a bar.
The woman and the five Outlaws were charged with felony aggravated battery and mob action. The legal question is whether the bar invasion had anything to do with the Outlaws club.
Two local prosecutors named Randi Freeze and Robert Zalud argue that the club was involved in the assaults, if only symbolically. The state lawyers put a succession of biker experts on the witness to tell the judge, an elected official named Sharon L. Prather, that this sort of thing is the reason the AOA exists. A local deputy named Kyle Mandernack testified that “The vests are directly related to facilitate street gang-related crime.”
A motorcycle gang expert named James Duffy, who is also an investigator for the State’s Attorney’s Office in neighboring DuPage County, said the men were acting on behalf of a “gang” that was guilty of “criminal activity.” He said the reason the defendants wore their Outlaws patches was to intimidate their alleged victims.
Duffy had a unique interpretation of the flair the defendants wore on their vests. For example, he told Judge Prather that the one percenter patch indicates an allegiance to gangs that engage in criminal activity.
Joel Rabb, the lawyer representing the AOA, told the judge that it isn’t a crime to belong to the motorcycle club and that what the defendants were wearing the night of the assaults is irrelevant.
The case isn’t big but the issue is. The prosecutors in McHenry County are trying to make the same argument federal prosecutors are trying to make against the Mongols Motorcycle Club in Los Angeles: That motorcycle clubs are basically criminal enterprises; that intimidation is a key to their criminality; and that the patches they wear are fundamental to that intimidation. No patch, no intimidation. No intimidation, no crime. The argument rests on the assumption that public safety trumps the right to dress as you please.
No matter what Judge Prather rules when the forfeiture hearing resumes March 6, many appeals courts have already ruled that wearing a club patch is a form of Constitutionally protected expression. The prosecutors and their experts should already know that but they are fighting for the forfeiture anyway.