A federal lawsuit in New Jersey, titled James Coles et al. v. Nicholas Carlini et al., is starting to get interesting.
Coles is a member of the Pagans Motorcycle Club. His fellow complainants are Pagans MC patch holder Louis C. DeGailler and Joseph Ballinger. Ballinger is a member of the Tribe Motorcycle Club. Carlini is a New Jersey State Police Trooper. His fellow respondents in the suit include Paula T. Dow who is the New Jersey Attorney General, State Police Superintendent Joseph “Rick” Fuentes and New Jersey State Police Troopers Gregory Manuel, Kristofer Gertsen, Erik Lindner, Thomas O’Connor. Last Friday a lawyer named Boyd Spencer filed a “Second Amended Civil Rights Complaint” against the cops. The case has been going on since November 23, 2010.
The most recent filing demands judgment in the complainants “favor, jointly and severally, against Colonel Fuentes and Troopers Carlini, Manuel, Gertsen, Lindner, and O’Conner, in their individual capacity, for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, legal relief including compensatory damages, punitive damages, costs, interest, attorney fees, and such other relief that this court may deem just and appropriate.” The amended 60 page complaint does not specify a damage amount.
The suit resulted from a seemingly undeniable abuse of police power on July 30, 2009. Coles, DeGaillier, Ballinger and three other patch holders were stopped and detained on Route 70 in Southampton, New Jersey while they were on their way to a charity fund raiser, for a sick child, at the Woodshed Beef & Beer in Vincentown. The stop was a blatant attempt to harass the bikers. The mechanics of the stop violated a previous federal consent decree that requires police to begin video recording as soon they signal motorists to stop. Carlini, did not activate his dash came until after the stop was made. “I got three Pagans, a Tribe and two unknowns,” Carlini reported to his dispatcher. At the time, Carlini was acting as Manuel’s training officer.
“None of you have proper helmets,” Carlini told the men he stopped. He then cited all the riders for violating a statute that applies only to motorized bicycles, not motorcycles. “They have to wear visors,” he told the dispatcher.
The other troopers arrived in two batches. All were aware of the fundraiser. At one point, one of the state cops asked Carlini, “These are good hardworking folk. They’re having a benefit for somebody’s kid, man. Why did you have to mess with them?”
Blue And Gold
Back in his car, while doing a lengthy warrant check on everybody in the pack, Carlini wondered out loud “Are we going to use Blue and Gold are the only colors that ride these roads?” Those colors refer to New Jersey State Police uniforms. He then agreed with himself and stated “We use blue and gold are the only colors that are allowed on this road.”
A dispatcher told Carlini that Ballinger had a suspended license for non-payment of an insurance surcharge. Dispatch was wrong. Ballinger had paid the fee.
After giving the six riders their bogus tickets, Carlini told them as a group to take off their colors because “blue and gold are the only colors that are allowed on this road.” He then told Ballinger that he was a suspended driver and that unless everyone in the group took off their colors he would have his bike towed. “You want to take your jackets off? If not this bike is getting hooked.” The men all refused to take off their colors. “I can stand here all night as well,” Carlini said. “I’m going to call for a tow for the impound.”
Coles then asked for a complaint form. Carlini gave him one but refused to tell Coles his name. Fifty-one minutes after pulling over the bikes Carlini told everyone but Coles “You’se five are free to go.” Two members of the pack stayed behind.
Another Pagan named Walt Smith arrived in a pickup truck to secure Ballinger’s motorcycle. Police had stopped him to check his documents while he was en route. After one hour and fourteen minutes Ballinger was allowed to leave in the pickup truck and Smith was allowed to ride off on Ballinger’s bike.
The traffic tickets were dismissed when the bikers went to court. In open court the prosecutor stated that the tickets were written for a statute that only applied to motorized bicycles in order to insult the six men and disparage their Harley-Davidsons.
The federal suit which was filed about six weeks later alleges that the state police acted in violation of the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The police asked the judge in the case, Jerome B. Simandle, to dismiss the suit on the grounds that because the defendants are police, they have immunity from civil suits and because, they assert, the traffic stop was “objectively reasonable.”
Simandle refused to dismiss the suit on March 29 stating that bikers have a “fundamental First Amendment right to wear motorcycle club colors on public roadways.
The police will have 30 days to file an answer to the amended complain filed last week. There is no trial date.