Words, Symbols Banned In Sparks Case

December 1, 2011

All Posts, News

A Washoe County, Nevada Judge declared her intention to void the United States Constitution during legal proceedings against two Vagos and a Hells Angel charged with conspiracy to commit second degree murder. The men are all charged as a result of the death of San Jose Hells Angel Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew.

Chief Judge Connie Steinheimer (photo above) announced her ban on the display of all motorcycle club insignia today during the arraignment of San Jose Hells Angel Cesar Villagrana. Villagrana pled innocent to conspiracy to commit second degree murder and carrying a concealed firearm. He remains free on $300,000 bail.

Pettigrew died after a fight between members of the Vagos and Hells Angels Motorcycle Clubs at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada on September 23.

Vago Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez pled not guilty to murder and conspiracy to commit second degree murder on November 17. He is being held without bail at, probably, the Washoe County Detention Facility. Gonzalez’ name does not appear on the inmate locator for that jail. A third alleged conspirator, former Vago Stuart Gary Rudnick, is being held without bail at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles. He will probably be extradited to Nevada within two weeks.

Brief Law Lesson

In August 2002, in a case titled Sammartano v. First Judicial District Court, in and for the County of Carson City, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court ruled that bans like the one Judge Steinheimer decreed today illegally prohibit freedom of expression. That appeals court reversed a ban in March and April 2001 on motorcycle club insignia worn by members of The Branded Few, His Royal Priesthood, and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Clubs. The lead appellant in that case, Franklin Sammartano, was banned from the courthouse for wearing a denim jacket bearing both a Harley-Davidson logo and a small American flag on the front next to the words “Try to burn this asshole.”

Among other things, the Carson City Courthouse had argued that “clothing, attire or colors which have symbols, markings or words indicating an affiliation with street gangs, biker or similar organizations…can be extremely disruptive and intimidating, especially when members of different groups are in the building at the same time.” The Ninth Circuit found no proof that the Carson City Courthouse’s assertion was true.

Steinheimer’s Ban

Steinheimer announced her ban after members of the Hells Angels wore clothing that bore the name of their motorcycle club in her court.

The judge said, “Rival motorcycle clubs will be presented through the defendants. I don’t want anyone wearing anything that will identify them as one club or another. That is my concern…the co-defendants will be in close proximity to their friends and supporters, but I don’t want anyone wearing identifying markings to be an issue.” Judge Steinheimer offered no proof that her “concern” was founded in any reality other than the private one between her ears.

Villagrana’s council, well known, Las Vegas defense attorney Richard Schonfeld objected to the ban. Steinheimer ordered a motion hearing on the issue.

Steinheimer also gave Schonfeld and Villagrana 90 days to challenge the grand jury indictment of the three alleged conspirators. The trial of all three men is currently scheduled to begin January 17, 2012.

Schonfeld wants to sever his client’s trial from those of his alleged, Vago co-conspirators.


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14 Responses to “Words, Symbols Banned In Sparks Case”

  1. YYZ Skinhead Says:

    Both sides ought to wear sandals–since boots are “biker attire”–and tee shirts with the Bill of Rights printed on them. I don’t think she can ban that. Incidentally, the American Flag is probably the most common “biker symbol”. Is it going to be banned as well?

    YYZ Skinhead

  2. Bud Says:


    Does this mean that the prosecutors will be banned from referring to the clubs as “gangs” as well?


  3. DesertH-D Says:

    Reb, I agree with ya… But I “believe” established precedent does not. I could be wrong… But unfortunately I don’t think I am.

    We all know that “should be” is not always a reliable indicator of what “will be”. But let’s see… Who knows, maybe there’s another Northern Nevada precedent setting case in the making here. I for one would be happy to see some sort of lemonade made outta this big ol’ lemon…

    quick BTW – It’s “Regas”. IMO, Troy’s shirt was very understated. Something he’d wear in daily life, other than maybe at work. And as has been expressed before, it’s not like everybody involved doesn’t know who everybody else is anyway… if there’s a person involved who doesn’t know who Troy is, IMO they probably shouldn’t be involved.

  4. AnonymousV Says:

    It was Steve Vaughn, an Oakland member(I believe) who painted his face half yellow after the court commented on his appearance, and when told not to return looking like that, he painted the other half yellow. (Barger & Zimmerman)

  5. Rebel Says:

    Dear Desert H-D,

    You may be right but when I read the decision the key factor seemed to be whether the insignia was worn in a public or a private place. The courthouse is a public place so people are allowed to express themselves there. In most cases, except for en camera sessions, a courtroom should be just as public a place. The judge may rule there, but all citizens and other interested parties are allowed to sit there. I think the judge needs to factually support her intuition that indicia is inherently dangerous or disruptive.

    I am aware of the good work of the Northern Nevada Confederation of Clubs and I am sure they are way ahead of me on fighting this indicia ban. Troy Rigas was one of the spectators at the hearing who was wearing a shirt the judge did not like. I thought it was a p[retty understated shirt, personally.

    I think it is vital to the prosecution in this case to be able to portray that all of the Vagos MC and all of the Hells Angels MC are “at war.” I think Villagrana’s case will probably be severed from the other two defendants. But, if on some occasions people who like green and people who like red and white were to peacefully assemble together I think it fundamentally undermines the conspiracy case.

    I am not an attorney. Criiminal law is just one of my hobbies, so we will see.


  6. Junior Says:

    Didn’t HA do this very thing back in 1950’s or 60’s just to *uck with the court? I think the time has come to do it again!

  7. Junior Says:

    OK, leave the cuts at home and Angels paint yer face half red and half white,,,Vagos paint your faces green. …maybe then she will ban Makeup and expose heself for who she really is…..a yellow pinko commie fag!

  8. DesertH-D Says:

    Apologies… “AVAGOVFFV” should be above…

  9. DesertH-D Says:

    For those not familiar with the Carson City issue a few years back… The Northern Nevada COC fought this all the way. The 9th circuit ruled in favor of our guys. It was a great victory, and an example of what happens when we STICK TOGETHER.

    However, a judge CAN limit items worn in their COURTROOM. Just not in the COURTHOUSE, which is deemed public area. The courtroom itself is the territory of the judge, and has been eloquently expressed here already by AVAGOAFFV and maybe others, “our” guys know how to respect that area.

    Good luck to all involved in their respective cases, and may the children without their Daddy’s this Christmas be the ones we keep most in our thoughts as this mess unfolds…

  10. Rashomon Says:

    By her rational the cops can’t wear their uniforms – reminds me of the lyrics from that old Police (the pop band) song:

    A policeman put on his uniform
    He’d like to have a gun just to keep him warm
    Because violence here is a social norm
    You’ve got to humanise yourself

  11. RVN69 Says:

    From Her picture, I damn sure don’t want her walking into the court topless! You bring up a good point though, based on her description, what symbols would be allowed. Sports team logo’s, Military Units, the fuckin Girl Scouts? AVAGOVFFV has described the situation perfectly, the clubs know who is who without patches for the most part, are they also going to have to cover tattoo’s? I’m sick of this bullshit.

    Honesta Mors, Turpi Vita Potior.

  12. Not Surprised Says:

    “Villagrana’s council, well known, Las Vegas defense attorney Richard Schonfeld objected to the ban. Steinheimer ordered a motion hearing on the issue.”

    I would not be surprised if Schonfield did not get some assistance, even if in the form of an Amicus Brief, on behalf of this issue, from other attorneys or entities; (Civil rights groups (ACLU) or consitutional rights groups.)

    The Judge will try to cite security or prejudicing a jury or something along those lines. Judges do have wide lattitude on how affairs in thier courtrooms are conducted, so we will see.

    I would love to be able to hear the oral arugments in person actually……

  13. AVAGOVFFV Says:

    This is bulshit!

    So let’s violate the Constitution again in the name of “safety”.

    I personally don’t NEED or WANT the governments safety. Chief Judge Connie Steinheimer needs to realize that the individual Clubs she mentioned already know who’s who and all for both sides are identifiable to each other.

    We as Clubs know how to respect a courtroom. After all we as Clubs spend enough time in them, thanks to people that make decisions based off fear, hyperbole and lack of understanding.

    So her position is baseless. I smell a law suit!

    Viva Los Vagos

  14. YYZ Skinhead Says:

    “clothing, attire or colors which have symbols, markings or words indicating an affiliation with street gangs, biker or similar organizations…” Okay, that covers just about ALL symbols. Is she expecting people to walk in there topless?

    YYZ Skinhead

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