Gang presence at rally rattling some nerves

Police hope Mongols, Hells Angels feud will not break out
Hollister – Local law enforcement officials believe this year’s Independence Rally could pose a greater threat to public safety than in years past, saying hundreds of members of rival motorcycle clubs, the Hells Angels and the Mongols, could attend the weekend’s festivities.

“We’re treating the possibility of confrontation very seriously, more so than any other years. This year, the potential of violence is higher than in other years,” said Hollister Police Chief Jeff Miller. “Both sides have indicated they’ll be present at the rally, wearing their colors and there’s always a likelihood of confrontation. It’s got us concerned.”

Miller offered no specifics, but said he’s heard rumblings that the two groups are more at odds with each other this year than in the past.

Although there aren’t any definite numbers on how many members of each group will attend, Miller said a host of figures have been offered up by different sources.

“The only thing I haven’t heard are numbers in the tens and twenties,” he said. “I’ve heard numbers in the hundreds.”

Miller said the chance of confrontation between the two groups, which haven’t posed any problems in the rally’s past, is one of the reasons the Hollister City Council recently passed several new ordinances giving police broader powers during the rally.

Because law enforcement has been aware the two groups plan to have a heightened presence during the rally, the ordinances, which include police being able to arrest someone for carrying a tool that could be used as a weapon, are one way they hope to prevent a large-scale problem.

The Hells Angels and the Mongols have had animosity between them for years, which climaxed on a grand scale with a riot during the Laughlin River Run motorcycle rally in Nevada in 2002. That confrontation ended with multiple shootings and stabbings. Two leaders of local Mongol and Hells Angels chapters live just miles away from one another in Hollister.

San Benito County Sheriff Curtis Hill said his outlaw motorcycle gang task force is aware the men live in Hollister and have been actively working on a host of motorcycle gang issues over the past several months. He said the task force will be tracking all outlaw motorcycle club members’ behavior during the rally.

“These two groups went about the business of killing each other in a public forum in Laughlin. That issue is not over. Hollister has its party on the city streets and if they choose to come to Hollister, have a good time, but if you break the law, you’re going to jail. Period. If I have to, I’ll call in the Marines,” Hill said recently.

The two leaders of local chapters of both clubs who live in Hollister have done so peacefully for years.

Jeff Pettigrew, president of the San Jose chapter of the Hells Angels, declined to comment about the group’s plans.

But Michael Reyes, president of the Gilroy chapter of the Mongols, said this year the Mongols will be in attendance flying their colors. The term colors refers to the club’s emblem, often emblazoned on the back of their jackets or vests.

Hells Angels’ members, including legendary member Sonny Barger, have attended the rally wearing their colors in the past. The Mongols have had little to no visible presence in past rallies, although Reyes said about 70 Mongols attended last year’s event without their colors. They haven’t attended past rallies in full regalia because police and other government officials consistently “come after all of us,” he said.

Reyes said the Mongols aren’t looking to start any trouble and are looking forward to a peaceful three days where they can be part of something they live for – motorcycles.

Reyes said since the incident in Laughlin, where between 70 and 100 members of both clubs were involved in a major riot that resulted in three deaths and multiple gunshot and knife injuries, Mongols throughout the state have been lying low for awhile.

But this year is different.

Reyes said the club was planning on some 1,500 members attending the Hollister Independence Rally. But because police declined to give them a designated spot within the event arena, leaders decided to only send representatives from each chapter.

“The PD wanted us to be calm, they want it peaceful. And we want that, too, but we wanted the Mongols in one area. We said ‘if you’re so paranoid about us coming, give us a spot,'” Reyes said. “But they (the police) called us up two days later and said we can’t do it. The way they looked at it, the head guys down south, they just used us for information – how many are coming. It got them upset.”

He declined to say how many members will roar into town during the weekend.

Reyes did say he has been threatened and wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a fight if it was started by the other group. But he hoped it would be a peace full rally and said, “If there is (a confrontation) it’s going to be on their part.”

Leave your comments