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Southern Oregon Motorcycle Club Member SentencedTim King Salem-News.com
Back to the 50's in the attitude toward motorcycle clubs.
(SALEM, Ore.) - The Oregon Attorney General's Office sent out a news release today stating that "A total of seven members of the North Valley Chapter of the Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Club have been convicted of charges ranging from robbery and kidnapping to burglary and coercion."
The statement from Attorney General John Kroger goes on to say how his office convicted a "Grants Pass-based outlaw motorcycle gang member" on charges of coercion and unlawful use of a weapon.
Now, is it a gang or a club? I don't know the Vagos, but I know a lot of bikers who are having a very hard time with their civil rights these days, and the semantics are important.
Police and prosecutors are in a new time when words like "terrorist" instantly mean that a person loses their treasured Civil Rights, simply over a charge, an allegation. "Gang member" isn't as bad, yet... but where does it end?
This is where the rubber of real Civil Liberty meets the asphalt.
There is no clause in the U.S. Constitution that states "Unless the person is wearing a patch on their jacket" that I have ever seen.
I know that these law enforcement officials, keen on the key words, play out their strategies and that 99% of the media in this nation knows not the first thing about this unique American culture, so they aren't much help, simply parroting the words of law enforcement bent on seeing bikers removed from our streets.
There are many clubs that exist without excessive legal difficulties, but when motorcycles are involved, the term club frequently becomes gang when police talk about it, and it is a matter of legal maneuvering. I think this type of "news" from a state office looks an awful lot like propaganda when the facts are skewed.
I remember when my niece was in high school, cruising around with a few of her friends at night, and they were pulled over by the "gang unit" because there were six kids together in a car. A car that belonged to a girl's mom.
The police use these terms out of context.
“Outlaw motorcycle gangs pose a major threat to public safety,” said Attorney General Kroger. “This case put a major dent in outlaw motorcycle gang activity in Southern Oregon.”
Apparently they had an issue with a club member and somebody tried to steal a motorcycle. One person reportedly, "chased two individuals with a sawed-off shotgun."
(Note: Since the story was published last night, 'Badger' Mark the Vagos club Spokesman for Oregon, told Salem-News.com, "The whole thing is over two years old and was about us finding out a convicted sex offender had made his way into our club and was kicked out.")
OK, I wouldn't want to be chased around by a pissed off biker with a shotgun, I admit that, but the way this story is laid out you would think they had just brought Charles Manson to justice.
Robbery and Coercion. Those are the crimes that the motorcycle club member in question was convicted of. No drugs, no Murder, nothing like that. The news release states that the conviction led to a 26 month (slightly over two years) prison sentence for 52-year old Richard Coelho. The AG says it was "the final case in a multi-year prosecution of the North Valley Chapter of the Vagos Outlaw Motorcycle Club."
Years? And all they did was convict some bikers for apparently hassling one of their own? It doesn't exactly fit the bill for public menace, based on the conviction.
The other Vagos who were prosecuted include 43-year old Chris Jorgenson, who was sentenced to 70 months in prison for robbery, coercion and burglary; 44-year old Chris Church, who was sentenced to 70 months in prison for kidnapping and coercion (two counts); 63-year old Gary Jones, who was sentenced to probation for coercion; and 52-year old James Lloyd, who was convicted at trial and sentenced to probation for robbery and coercion. 49-year old Jack Sanders, and 56-year old Bob Moore, who were each convicted of coercion (two counts), have not yet been sentenced.
It reminds me of another recent story where vast amounts of tax dollars were spent funding a tremendous list of Oregon police agencies that busted a drug dealer. Rafael Martinez Ayala sold meth ten times to narc cops, and made drug deals while his kids were in the house. He was sentenced to 269 months in prison.
Taxpayers will pick up the tab for 269 months, more than 22 years of prison incarceration. Yet in the same timeframe, a couple who repeatedly harmed other human beings, children no less, who refused a lawyer, behaved disrespectfully to the judge, and left children with lifetime scars on their bodies and souls, will serve a sentence less than 1/3 third the length of Ayala's.
Hispanics and bikers; huge lengthy sentences. A white couple that is extremely dangerous and abusive; a comparative slap on the wrist. What gives?
The public needs to realize that motorcycle clubs are as All-American as apple pie, whether people like it or not. Most bikers are U.S. military veterans. Many served in combat, starting with WWII, which is what launched the American biker movement.
Yet in the biker circuit are a whole bunch of undercover cops posing as bikers. They infiltrate these clubs, and if they were simply doing it to arrest people for illegal activity, that is one thing. But that is not what they do.
It seems the biggest goal of police intervention in motorcycle clubs is to incite problems between the various clubs.
I know for a fact that this is and has been taking place, and these are serious allegations. If the bikers themselves did anything remotely similar they would be arrested and face heavy charges, almost certainly on a federal level. Inciting violence is totally unacceptable criminal police behavior.
Some of these actions by police have resulted in clubs taking violent action against each other over the years. Police should not be allowed to do this. Being deceptive is a specialty of undercover 'narcs' and anyone who relies on deceit as their main tool reeks of dishonesty, and their word is stained.
Nobody writes about this because there is such a shortage of reporters who cross over in these areas of knowledge. Bikers are largely mistrusting of media, and I understand why. Sometimes though they need a break. I am not making excuses for breaking the law, that is not the point.
According to the news release from the Oregon AG, "Testimony established that the Vagos members considered themselves a 1 percent club, a reference to a 1960s claim that up to 99% of motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens, but the last one percent are outlaws."
More than anything, the term 'one percenter' is figurative. It represents a lifestyle, and the term's origins date back to the post-WWII years.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans were sent off to the vicious deadly fighting of WWII. They were made into killers of other men, made to do things most human beings could not do, and would never want to do. They returned from the war and there was a need to keep living a certain way. There were two main American motorcycles at the time; Harley Davidson and Indian.
These were the machines of our veteran American riders and they were probably pretty tough for people to take in the years following the war, at places like Hollister, California, but that is how it goes.
This is the town that bikers visited in 1947, that would later be the basis for the movie "Wild Ones" with Marlon Brando. The main club that day, the Boozefighters in California, still exist. What really happened wasn't much, some drinking and partying, riding bikes around the small town.
It was Hollywood that demonized that event, and possibly one posed photo of a biker leaning back on a Harley with beer cans everywhere.
And this led to the press asking the "respectable" motorcycle group, the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) to comment on the Hollister incident. The AMA responded by saying that 99% if all motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens, and the last one percent were outlaws.
That is when and where the term "1%" came into being, and it was practically an invitation to would-be outlaw bikers to embrace the term, thanks to the AMA. It happened in the wake of the 1947 event at Hollister.
I am going to close by noting one more very interesting thing in the news release from the Oregon Attorney General.
It is the statement, "The Criminal Justice Division focuses on public corruption and government misconduct, complex drug cases, organized crime and gangs, mortgage fraud and internet sex predators."
We know of at least one specific case of government misconduct here in Oregon; this is the tragic case involving our writer, Coral Theill. To encapsulate: her former husband was physically and sexually abusive. He was also a member of a right leaning church in Polk County, Oregon. This ex-husband, Marty Warner, was tight with the cops, the judge, everybody. When Coral turned Warner in for marital rape, she was told that if she tried to report this a second time, that she would be arrested. Coral today is living in hiding and the state of Oregon is on her tail all the time to pay back child support.
That is the kind of justice Oregon is known for. We have tried repeatedly to schedule time to talk with the AG about this, but for some reason they just never have time. We are also carrying the ball for an elderly woman in Oregon who was bilked out of over a million dollars by her son in California, yet Oregon leaves her out to dry.
So they can wave their banner telling everyone they busted a dangerous "biker" - but the spirit of the law here is the same one that has always been here. It has preferences built-in, and the whole idea of the AG being the only state office where you can take a grievance about an Oregon DA, is the biggest conflict of interest in the world.
I have a feeling that much bigger convictions than this one have taken place in Oregon this week, and that this was simply singled out in an effort to negatively affect the image of people who ride motorcycles and belong to clubs. I hope I am wrong; I don't think I am.
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.
Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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