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Posts Tagged ‘SWAT’

Pumpkin Festival

I previously blogged about Street Vibrations and the club-on-club shooting in Sparks, NV last month at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino which left dead the HAMC San Jose Chapter President (Jeffrey Pettigrew).

We now have the first documented incident of how the HAMC and Vagos violence has provoked a response from law enforcement in Manteca, CA which is about 75 miles east of San Francisco.

It happened at a Pumpkin Festival in “the family city.”  Yes a Pumpkin Festival.  Two members of the Bikers for Christ Motorcycle Ministry were asked to leave the street fair by the Manteca Police because they were wearing their motorcycle vest with ministry patches on the back. They were told it was due to the shooting in Sparks, NV.

Keep in mind that the Christian Motorcycle Ministry is a non-profit ministry.  Not a street gang, or are they really even a motorcycle club.   Their purpose is to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the biker world, a section of society,  that many have chosen not to associate with. The ministry has been operating for 21 years without problems.

Isn’t profiling against the law?  The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Cohen vs. California, 403 U.S.15 (1971) that individuals have the constitutional right under the First Amendment to wear clothing which displays writings or designs. In addition, the right of an individual to have freedom of association has long been recognized and protected by the Courts.

What’s next?  I suppose, motorcyclists will be asked to leave events because they are wearing a H.O.G. emblem on a vest or people wearing a Harley-Davidson t-shirt or one from their favorite Sons of Anarchy television show. I find this whole situation discouraging.

Photo taken by author in Hood River.

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Graham Nash (of CSN&Y fame) wrote “Teach Your Children”, “Lady Of The Island” and “Right Between The Eyes” in ONE night.  He was on tour with the Hollies, was frustrated and sick of making pop music.  He wanted to write songs with meanings…and these three came out.

All we’ve got is time and I don’t want to waste yours.  But, you see Graham had a passion.  Maybe it’s a baby boomer thing.  Encouraged by their parents.  They were the first generation who could be something more.

Speaking of “Teach Your Children”… I rode down to Reno for the Street Vibration motorcycle rally.  The good news;  there were no deaths in the 84 crashes investigated by Nevada Highway Patrol.  There were 23 arrests made during the 5-day Street Vibration motorcycle rally with a total of 1,396 traffic enforcement stops.

The bad news; and one that all motorcycle enthusiasts should care about was the motorcycle club-on-club casino shooting at John Ascuaga’s Nugget which left one person dead (Jeffrey  “Jethro” Pettigrew, HAMC President (San Jose Chapter)) and two members of the Vagos MC (Leonard Ramirez & Diego Garcia) injured in the hospital.  I wasn’t there during the Friday night shooting because Randy Burke of Roadshow Productions really pulled out all the stops to make this year the best-of-the-best and I was in downtown Reno enjoying everything that Street Vibrations had to offer.  You see, last year was a rather dismal affair which I coined as “Street Frustrations” so, props to Randy… this year had all the markings to be a really great event.   Except for that little brazen and almost “drug cartel” style casino shooting.  Police reports indicate there were about 60 Vagos and a dozen HAMC on the casino video tapes.  It’s reminiscent of the Laughlin River Run melee of a few years ago between the HAMC and the Mongols MC.  There was one arrest of a HAMC member, Cesar Villagrana on a suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon charge. [Note: The incident in Nevada isn’t Villagrana’s first run-in with the law. Following a March 17 collision in Aptos, CA. – for which Villagrana was found to be at fault – he made Santa Cruz headlines when the California Highway Patrol discovered the Gilroy Hells Angel was carrying an unregistered Beretta handgun. The discovery of the weapon came after Villagrana collided his 2002 Harley Davidson with a Honda and Toyota on Soquel Drive near State Park Drive in Aptos, according to CHP Spokeswoman Sarah Jackson.  The Associated Press reports state Villagrana has been out of custody, and pleaded not guilty in May to charges of carrying a loaded gun not registered to him and being an active Hells Angels gang member. Source HERE]

Police Block Off Victorian Square

And I predict just like Laughlin, Street Vibrations will now forever be changed.  First will be the citizen calls to cancel the event.  But, capitalism will prevail and a change will occur under the broad brush of security and the need for an “abundance of caution” to tamp down or avoid any possibility of club violence.  Higher tax payer costs associated with security.  Higher hotel fees for attendees to cover the increased cost of security.  Higher vendor fees to cover security costs.  They city will implement a NO COLORS rule and it will go into effect.  Wrist bands to enter the hotel lobby.  Wrist bands and hotel keys to enter elevators.  Long waits to exit the hotel parking garages due to security validation of rider/owner to motorcycle.  Random road blocks and searches.  SWAT, Counterterrorism Unit and Gang Enforcement Teams will have a presence reminiscent of a military-dictator bent on keeping power.  You watch. It will be costly to the average rider.

Vendor Booths at Carson City H-D

Club business is none of my business, but when the public is exposed to an increase in the number of individuals who are willing to carry and fire guns indiscriminately around a public casino are we to just ignore the incident and continue on with breakfast plans and t-shirt buying as if it didn’t happen?  And where was the law enforcement intelligence?  And isn’t the casino security somewhat at fault?  Didn’t they get a clue when a dozen HAMC arrived at the Vagos base-camp that a fight might break out?

And then there are the financial ramifications.  This year in Reno, Virginia Street had about 55 vendors which was limited by the Reno City recreation officials for security reasons.  The majority, about 120 vendors were in Sparks.  And as you can image the vendors spend a lot of money for hotels, permits, food and gas to set up for Street Vibrations.  The biggest day of sales are typically Saturday, however, after the previous night’s shooting the Sparks mayor declared a state of emergency (to get and receive additional police enforcement resources as well as enforce a curfew) and then after a retaliation shooting Saturday morning of a Vagos MC member (Shane Smith) who was walking on Victorian Avenue they made the decision to closed down the event, including all vendor booths in Victorian Square.  What was surely a difficult business decision in light of the economic circumstances, but none the less many riders thought was good one considering the real or perceived retaliation rumors swirling around the area.

LEO Presence Post HAMC/VAGOS Shooting

It’s not clear if Street Vibrations can survive.  For Roadshow Inc., the event production company, it has to be the most important weekend/event of the year.  In fact, I’m not sure how or if Reno can ever shake off all the tragedies and grief it’s endured recently.  It was just about a week ago when 11 people were killed at the Reno Air Races and about two weeks before that there were 5 people randomly shot at an IHOP in Carson City.  Add to those tragedies the Amtrak crash in June where 5 people were killed and it makes you wonder.

And before you start with the comments… I want to acknowledge that the acts of a couple motorcycle clubs do NOT represent a majority of the motorcycle enthusiasts that go to Street Vibrations every year.  I get it.

The frustration is that the incident murder (let’s call it what it was!) is another confirmation for an uninformed public that results in a “guilt by association” and one more piece of my freedom is likely to be taken away…

We need to teach the children to be something more!  My sincere condolences to Mr. Pettigrew’s family.

Reference: The Nugget shooting case number is 11-8996.

UPDATE: September 28, 2012 — Vagos MC attorney, Joe Yanny states in a phone interview that no Vagos member fired a gun.  He goes on to state that the “social club” has a zero tolerance policy of criminal activity.  Listen to the interview HERE and how the club is apologetic for the negative consequences.

UPDATE: October 7, 2011 — According to this report, or this video report, Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez, 53, of San Jose, CA., was taken into custody last week by police in San Fransisco. He was on the University of California SF campus.  Gonzalez was being held in San Fransisco until police from Sparks, Nevada, arrive on the scene to question him.  Police believe that Gonzalez, who is an allegedly a member of the Vagos gang, shot Pettigrew four times in the back. The evidence against Gonzalez came from surveillance photos taken of Gonzalez inside the casino, which matched photos the California Highway Patrol took of Reno-bound motorcycle gang members in the hours leading up to the casino shooting.

UPDATE: June 4, 2014 – As part of a plea deal to testify against fellow Vagos, Nevada Judge Connie Steinheimer sentenced Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick to seven years in prison on August 21, 2013.   Rudnick testified that the murder was ordered by Vagos Motorcycle Club President Pastor “Tata” Palafox in front of 200 witnesses and Gonzalez volunteered to murder Pettigrew at that meeting.  Vago Ernesto Manuel “Romeo” Gonzalez was reportedly the ex-president of Vagos Nicaragua, and was sentenced to life in prison on October 3, 2013 with the possibility of parole after 20-years.

Photos taken by author and courtesy of RGJ.com

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Two-LaneThe weather, the gambling action, the leather and the chrome all attracted higher attendance for Street Vibration 2009.  Maybe the lack of hype or the “sky is falling” press about impending club-on-club violence helped?  There was a positive “vibe” in the city which I’ve not observed in a couple years.  I ask and didn’t hear much from street vendors about the current recession is the new normal… yada, yada.

As I roared out of Reno yesterday on my way home I thought about this video — “Rockin’ The Beer Gut” — a bit of truth wrapped up in a humorous ditty that tells us even though we have dangerous unemployment and we may not be perfect, don’t work on Wall Street making millions, it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun!  And fun at Street Vibrations we had!  The 546 mile ride back gave me plenty of time to try and recall what stood out from years past — there was that monster jump at the Grand Sierra Resort by Ryan Capes who broke the standing 254 foot (ramp-to-ramp) record and then turned around and broke his own new record by clearing 316 feet on a motorcycle, then there were the Motorcycle “Clubs,” more than a dozen all getting along, but mostly it was about the scenic journey on two-lane tarmac with green mountains to sage brush desert which was fantastic.  The weather (mid-90’s) didn’t hurt and put the FUN back into the experience.  As well as tens of millions to the local economy.  I certainly left my small share!

The event didn’t pass without incidents, however.  More riders often means more accidents.  First, there were several motorcycle accidents on US 395 related to the set up for the monster jump.  Then there was a lady who was on the Harley-Davidson demo bike ride and wrecked.  A couple on U.S. 50 who crashed just east of Spooner Summit which sadly resulted in the only fatality at the event.  Then on our ride back from Virginia City we came upon a motorcyclist who struck a wall on Griner’s Bend, a sharp curve at the south side of Virginia City on State Route 342.  It turned out that 6 people were injured Friday afternoon, two of them seriously, in four separate accidents all involving loss of control.  The Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) reported there had been 18 motorcycle accidents over the course of the rally weekend.

The final attendance tally and the economic $$ impact will be out in a few days, but from my perspective it seemed like more people and the street crowds were bigger.  Not as record breaking as a few years ago, but none the less significant.  I plan to provide an trip chronology and will post it up over the next few days.

UPDATE: September 29, 2009 — AP is reporting that there were 72 arrest made at Street Vibrations even though LEO consider the event largely peaceful.  Most of the arrests were alcohol related, including 23 for public intoxication.  The police issued 77 traffic citations and responded to six reports of stolen motorcycles.

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The story of Chicken Little is an allegory about alarmists, which concludes with an admission about ill-founded apocalyptic predictions.

Thinking about how “The Sky is Falling“…on my return ride from Street Vibrations yesterday…I couldn’t help but wonder if the speculation, rumors, concerns, worry and numerous citizen calls created an apocalyptic “environment” for the rally? 

SWAT

SWAT

I was in Virginia City during “Street V” and I’ve never witnessed (in the U.S.) so many submachine guns, stun grenades and specialized fire arms attached to so many SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) members… all of them willingly ready to perform dangerous operations.  They were there to prevent another motorcycle rally from going sideways or prevent a terrorist attack by stud-n-leather clad motorcycle riders! 

Talk about taking apocalyptic prevention measures… turns out that Virginia City pulled out all the stops (and city budget $$ too!) to have these specialized paramilitary tactical units “lurking” in doorways and engage any potential armed criminal or take down with steel reinforced boots any dangerous biker who ate one too many $5 combo hot dogs and beer.

Supposedly the apocalyptic predictions started just a few days before the Street Vibrations.  Rumors started about biker “club” tensions or retaliation as a result of the San Francisco’s HAMC chapter president, Mark ‘Papa’ Guardado who was shot outside a bar earlier this month. He was a high-profile figure in the motorcycle club.  A rival Mongols “club” member,  Christopher Ablett is a suspect in the case.  Since the funeral there has been a pipe bomb explosion in San Jose aimed at members of the Mongols.

Phone calls flooded the Nevada police lines with residents stating their concerns of biker violence spilling over into Reno, Sparks, Carson City and Virginia City.  As a result the law enforcement agencies beefed up and planned for the worst of the worst.  I didn’t see it, but it’s likely snipers with high-powered rifles and night vision optics were watching my every hot dog bite and beer burp?

Virginia City Police

Virginia City Police

There are so many analogies between motorcycle events and that of Chicken Little.  The first is that all the doom and gloom are unnecessarily alarming.  Second, they expose the inability of the average (non-motorcycle riding) citizen and their motorcycle hating followers to process relevant information and synthesize rational, appropriate interpretations.  The majority of people and motorcycles at Street Vibrations are recreational riders and this was overkill to the power of TEN.  An incredible show of AGGRESSION or police force which did NOT correctly interpret the situation or was supported by the facts. 

Yes, there was a large “Red and White” presence at Street Vibrations.  I saw a number of Vagos, Henchmen as well as many other “clubs”.  Many of the clubs have a no colors rule and were not highly visible, but you could easily tell if a group were part of some “gathering”.  I did not see Mongols.

I believe that law enforcement were tricked and fell for “the sky is falling” trap!  It’s another example of how the Outlaw Motorcycle “Clubs” behavior helps set the overall “tone” for many motorcycle events and the police agencies worked in cooperation to miss-interpret.

To be fair, the Sheriff reported that on Saturday there was at one point about 11,000 bikers in Virginia City and they arrested 6 people.  One for domestic violence, 2 for DUI, and the remainder for disturbing the peace and indecent exposure. 

Yeah, the sky is falling…

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