Another Biker Civil Rights Suit

November 8, 2013

All Posts, News

A Hells Angel named Steven Gatto filed a civil rights lawsuit this week seeking $100,000 damages, unspecified punitive damages, lawyer’s fees and injunctive relief from the City of San Francisco, the San Francisco Police Department and ten John Does. The suit was filed Tuesday and amended yesterday.

Gatto alleges he was kicked out of a “San Francisco Forty-Niner football game, which was being played at Candlestick Park on November 13, 2011, because he wearing a jacket bearing the insignia of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.” Among other things the suit alleges that San Francisco and its police department condone and encourage police “officers in the belief that they can violate the rights of citizens such as plaintiff with impunity, and that such conduct will not adversely affect the officers’ opportunities for promotion and other employment benefits.”

Gatto’s lawyer, Joseph Wiseman, told Mike Rosenberg and Joshua Melvin of the San Jose Mercury News that Gatto’s friend Dave Tollefson, who played for the New York Giants against the Forty-Niners that day, provided Gatto with a wristband that gave him access to the Giant’s sidelines.

Kicked Out Twice

According to the suit, Gatto entered the stadium “wearing his Hells Angels patch” without incident. During the game, while walking through Candlestick Park, he was stopped by an unnamed cop and ordered “to take off his jacket or be subject to arrest.” The cop told Gatto that wearing the patch violated the stadium’s “dress code…implemented with the expressed goal of keeping fans’ ‘game day experience free from’ a list of actions, including ‘offensive clothing.’”

Gatto complied, left the stadium and listened to the rest of the game in his car in the parking lot.

“Near the end of the game, (Gatto) left his car and walked to the temporary public bathrooms, which were located in the stadium parking lot. Plaintiff locked his jacket in his car before he left for the bathroom. After using the bathroom, Plaintiff returned to the gate and was let in the stadium a second time. This time, Plaintiff was wearing a tee shirt with the words ‘Hells Angels Motorcycle Club’ printed on the back. Plaintiff made his way to the players’ area and spent a few moments talking to his friend….” Gatto was soon rousted a second time and told to get out immediately because he was wearing a Hells Angels tee-shirt.

The Constitution

The suit argues that the cop’s actions violated the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which ensure the rights of free expression and due process, and provisions of the California Constitution that guarantee the rights to free speech and due process.

This isn’t the first time Gatto and Wiseman have collaborated on such a suit. After Gatto was thrown out of the Sonoma County Fair for wearing his patch eleven years ago Wiseman sued on his behalf in federal court and won. In that suit Gatto was awarded $23,700 in legal fees and $1,000 damages.



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20 Responses to “Another Biker Civil Rights Suit”

  1. PigPen Says:

    Ok, I have a question for all the lawyers in the house. I can see, if a bar has a sign posted, NO COLORS. that is very specific. And I can see the stadium being private property and the owners being able to word “offensive clothing” as not welcome. but, my question is, “offensive clothing” is such a broad term, who judges what is deemed offensive and not offensive? How does getting kicked out of the event for a club shirt get qualified as offensive clothing? I would understand if the shirt says club name and “fuck yo”u. but if it is a club name only, how can that qualify? it sounds like another case of pork profiling and prejudice. I think the guy has a decent case.

  2. jj solari Says:

    it cost him 27 thousand dollars in legal fees to get to wear an article of clothing with letters and a drawing on it. something to think about.

  3. Road Whore Says:

    I agree, PigPen.

    And god bless Gatto for being awarded about 24k total in his other lawsuit. That’ll buy some nice road trips!

    Ride Free

  4. Road Whore Says:

    @ jj solari: Ain’t it so.

    Ride Free

  5. CN Says:

    No Color(s) is okay but No Color(ed) isn’t. The double standard is undeniably there. What defines”Colors” then? Does wearing a Packers Jersey to a Vikings home game constitute a danger to those attending the game (it actually does to the Packers fan, try it)! This is a LEO trap off. Maybe the general public could wear grey uniforms, wait, the Germans tried that already.

  6. PigPen Says:

    the way i see it, if somebody can wear an Obama shirt without getting tossed. Then club shirts are off limits too. cause let me tell you, i find Obama shirts offensive. it makes me want to hit the person wearing it with a fucking brick.

  7. Bill Says:

    There are Obama shirts?

  8. stroker Says:

    What little I know about this stuff is: In California, if the event is a city, county, state or federal event, then they cannot kick you out for “offensive clothing.” If it’s a private venue, say a stadium or restaurant or bar, they can refuse service to anyone they want. Now, if Candlestick receives any funding from the city or state, say in the form of a grant, or subsidy, there may be grounds there.
    My CoC won against the Santa Cruz County 2 years ago, when 20 clubs (including local HA) rode to fair, got refused, documented it, filmed it, and then filed against the county. They backed down before we got to court, and came to our meeting to personally apologize. Be interesting to see how this plays out.

  9. OC VAGO Says:

    Why is this such a big surprise? Isn’t anybody paying attention to what’s happening is Australia? Isn’t anybody paying attention to the Mongols trial? Isn’t anybody seeing this shit whittle away at us all over this country? Wake up people. It’s coming your way. If all you do is sit around and bitch you are part of the problem. You want to be part of the solution get with your local COC. If you care anything about your club, your rights, your lifestyle get on it before you get got.

  10. BB Says:

    Candlestick Park is owned by the City and County of San Francisco. Thus, it is owned by the government. It is a classic “public forum” and, as such, subject to the highest level of scrutiny under the First Amendment to the US Constitution. There are a slew of cases that stand for the proposition that wearing club colors is a protected First Amendment activity. Thus, the city and county will have a hard time arguing that it is permissible for them to prohibit “colors” at the park. Contrast this with a privately held establishment where owners can legally stop folks from wearing certain types of dress (with some exceptions which are unimportant here).

    Based on that, I’d say that the Red & White have a good chance of prevailing in this suit.



  11. Meh Says:

    Kudos for striking a blow for free speech.

    A club printing T-shirts with its indicia (to use the piggy term) AND a phrase constituting obvious but not remotely “offensive” by any community standards specifically political protest would be a fun move. “Colors are political speech!” or to borrow a common Lefty protest meme “Free (insert biker political prisoner name)!”.

    If Left Coast cops or security eject someone for that, time to trot out “Free Huey!” shirts from the past.

  12. ocmouse22 Says:

    Let me ask you this JJ just what are your constitutional rights worth to you. I put my life on the line for God and country. Its not the amount its the right to live by the constitution and not allow anyone to take that away!

  13. DesertH-D Says:

    OC VAGO – Right on!

  14. jj solari Says:

    @ocmouse……to answer your rhetorical question ocmouse my constitutional rights are not worth anything to me. because rights do not come from the constitution. they come from Nature. the constitution grants permissions. not rights. second of all, i am glad whoever this was won both his cases. i hope he wins the third. its just too bad he has to keep emptying his bank account over and over on the gamble that he will win the “right” to wear 11 letters and a drawing on his clothes. i hope this answer has been helpful to you and thank you for taking my call.

  15. jj solari Says:

    @ocmouse…..and now as long as we are on the subject and since you want clarification on some things, if the constitution had really granted this fellow the “right” to wear a hells angels logo where he was wearing it, none of this ever would have been a problem. but apparently the cops who threatened him with arrest didnt read the hells angel’s constitutional guarantee. nope. the hells angel had to file a lawsuit, put his life on hold in order to deal with the bureaucracy – created by the same constitution that is allegedly guaranteeing him his alleged rights – that is making him gamble on whether a judge or a whole line of judges will AGREE with the constitution, since the constitution is not going to bother to step forward and personally intervene.

  16. Rebel Says:

    Now JJ,

    You’re not talking treason and sedition in here, are you?


  17. Cap'n Bill Says:

    Everything is subject to interpretation JJ (unless WE do the interpreting…)

  18. VINCE 1%er Says:

    BIG Win For the RED & WHITE/81MC WORLD . It’ll take time and more than a few court appearances-but a WIN Just the same. And it will count for other 1%Er Clubs nationally – and hopefully some legal precedent for the 81MC and Others Internationally.
    Bad times lately for the legislation aimed towards Us. But with dilligance & fortitude (and Competent Legal Pitbulls for counsel) It’d Be a Great BIG Win for Us all. I Hope to see it come to fruition.
    Vince 1%ER

  19. Mike 184 Says:

    Sounds to me like they already set the precedence more than once on the subject, but namely the Sonoma County incident. I hope that they win and the damned state (I used to live there…. Love place, but hate the State Government) doesn’t try to adjust the laws to skate around the Constitution.

    Sad that you have to take the State to court to get and keep what is a “right”. Unbelievable.

  20. Indethinker Says:

    “offensive clothing” is so vague that they can throw out anyone for what ever reason they like, as a Raiders fan I find red and gold jerseys offenive, but good for Mr. Gatto for fighting for ALL our rights by filing this suit !

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