Police agencies in Porter County, Indiana are knowingly and publicly endorsing an unconstitutional policy of motorcycle profiling and discrimination targeting motorcycle club members and other motorcyclists attempting to participate in charitable fundraising events.
On May 11th, 60 officers from 11 different agencies began a premeditated campaign of profiling stops targeting participants in a charity event promoted by the Hells Angels for no other reason than being associated with a motorcycle club. No specific or particular evidence existed to justify this “saturation patrol” which has resulted in 1st Amendment violations and gross mismanagement of public resources.
Disturbingly, law enforcement has made it clear that the patrols will continue. In addition to immediate action in the form of demands to cease this unconstitutional campaign of profiling, legislation at both at the state and federal level is needed to stop this epidemic impacting motorcyclists from Indiana to both coasts of America.
The Scenario: Premeditated Discrimination
According to a May 21st NW Times report based on a press release from the Porter County Sheriffs Department, “A flier promoting an event hosted by the notorious Hells Angels motorcycle group triggered a police saturation patrol [Thursday] night in the area of U.S. 20 and Ind.149 that drew 60 officers from 11 different agencies.”
The agencies participating include the Indiana State Police which means the issue is not merely local. The NW Times says, “Agencies taking part in the saturation patrol were the Indiana State Police, Indiana Excise Police and the Porter County, Lake County, Porter, Portage, Ogden Dunes, Valparaiso, Chesterton, Kouts and Hebron police departments.”
Police justified the “saturation patrol” by referencing that the Hells Angels are considered a criminal organization by federal authorities.
“The objective was to maintain a police presence to deter any criminal activity in order to maintain the safety and security for the citizens of Porter County,” reads a press release from the Porter County Sheriff’s Department.
But there was absolutely no actionable intelligence or specific evidence of particular individuals intending to commit crimes. And it is basic Constitutional law that membership in an organization in which other members have committed crimes is constitutionally insufficient to justify an investigatory stop or other restriction.
In fact, reality proves there was no risk to the community. The NW Times reported, “Teresa Wright, one of the owners of The Mill, said the event was a charitable fundraising event with proceeds benefiting SELF School and a home-school program for cancer patients.” “It was a positive event,” Wright said. “There were no issues. It went smooth.”
Video Shows Mass Profiling Stop
The NW Times reported, “The patrol took place from 5-11 p.m. There were numerous traffic stops and a few arrests, which are still being compiled for release, according to the Porter County Sheriff’s Department.”
But according to sources speaking to the MPP, the saturation patrol was much more intrusive and extensive than reported. The results are clearly demonstrated in the video provided to the MPP by a participant in the event.
Police Risk Safety to Harass Invaders MC
According to an eyewitness representative from the Indiana Confederation of Clubs, a pack of 24 motorcycles, comprised of members of the Invaders MC and their guests, were unsafely harassed and targeted en route to the charity fundraiser for children with cancer. The entire stop was premeditated.
The pack gathered at a Denny’s 7 miles from the fundraiser at The Mill, a bar located in Burns Harbor. According to the Indiana COC eyewitness, “There were 4 squad cars in the parking lot. One in each corner. As the pack pulled out, 2 squad cars pulled in front of the pack and 2 pulled in behind the pack. An SUV appeared on the side of the pack. Suddenly the SUV pulled into the middle of the pack endangering the lives of many. Allegedly a female passenger on one of the bikes tossed a cigarette.”
The pack was split and the harassment continued. Three members of the Chrome Vixens were pulled over for following too close. But the motive was clearly motorcycle profiling. “Officers asked the women why they associated with Invaders and how to become a member of their club.”
As the pack pulled into Burns Harbor the police presence was visible and overwhelming. The eyewitness says, “The place was swarming with law enforcement. They were everywhere, including the Indiana State Police Mobile Command Center.”
Hells Angels Pack Targeted and Harassed
The Indiana COC eyewitness continues:
“Shortly after we pulled into the parking lot of The Mill a pack of approximately 10 Hells Angels from Illinois pulled into the parking lot. Law enforcement SWARMED on the pack completely blocking access to the fundraiser. Motorcycles were not able to enter and simply rode away due to the police presence. The pack was pulled over because a bike in the middle of the pack allegedly failed to properly signal. Ultimately, the entire pack was given speeding violations for going 47 in a 45.”
Incidents Show How Police Abuse Traffic Code To Profile Motorcycle Clubs.
This incident demonstrates how law enforcement will abuse the traffic code to conduct display of force stops targeting motorcycle clubs. The need to abuse the traffic code in an attempt to justify such stops proves that there is no specific evidence of an intent to commit criminal activity. Otherwise, the facade would not be necessary in the first place. It is irrefutable that the motive for this stop was nothing more than association with motorcycle clubs.
Remember, this was not an impromptu stop. 11 agencies coordinated 60 officers for the sole purpose of targeting a Hells Angels sponsored charity fundraiser based on a publicly released flyer promoting a series of events. This campaign of discrimination was premeditated and openly embraced by law enforcement. And according to the NW Times, “Police are planning similar saturation efforts on the future Bike Nights listed on the Hells Angels flier.”
Targeting Persons Solely Based On Association Is Blatantly Unconstitutional
The entire premise of law enforcement’s “saturation patrol” targeting a Hells Angels charity fundraiser event is unconstitutional. Motorcycle clubs, including those clubs labeled organized or criminal gangs by federal authorities, are 1st Amendment protected associations. A recent Federal Court concluded:
There is “no evidence that by merely wearing [motorcycle club] “colors,” an individual is “involved in or associated with the alleged violent or criminal activity of other [motorcycle club] members. It is a fundamental principle that the government may not impose restrictions on an individual “merely because an individual belong[s] to a group, some members of which committed acts of violence.” In fact, the Supreme Court has long “disapproved governmental action . . . denying rights and privileges solely because of a citizen’s association with an unpopular organization.” Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 185-86 (1972).
To permit law enforcement to impose restrictions on any individual wearing the insignia of a motorcycle club, “without regard to or knowledge of that individual’s specific intent to engage in the alleged violent activities committed by other members, is antithetical to the basic principles enshrined in the First Amendment and repugnant to the fundamental doctrine of personal guilt that is a hallmark of American jurisprudence. (See Coles v. Carlini, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, Civil No. 10-6132, Opinion, 9/30/2015, p.28)
Targeting Charity Fundraisers Violates The 1st Amendment
Participating in charitable fundraisers is also expressive conduct under the 1st Amendment and government restrictions would establish an independent violation. The video shows the streets being blocked and access to the fundraiser being restricted all based on a motorcycle profiling stop. Police are also admitting that the campaign is premeditated. According to the Indiana COC and confirmed by the video released by the MPP, motorcyclists were prevented from entering the event while the police had the parking lot blockaded to issue a pre-textual traffic citation. Additionally, future attendance is threatened because many people may not attend an event when they know there is a high likelihood of harassment. Remember, police have said the campaign will continue.
Profiling Campaign Violates The Mill’s Right To Pursue an Occupation
Restricting or deterring attendance to The Mill creates another legitimate claim against law enforcement’s actions as well. The Supreme Court says the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment protects a liberty or property interest in pursuing the “common occupations or professions of life.” See Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners, 353 U.S. 232, 238-39, 77 S.Ct. 752, 755-56, 1 L.Ed.2d 796 (1957); Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 762 F.2d 753, 757 (9th Cir.1985).
The constitutional right infringed in cases of excessive and unreasonable police conduct is “the right to pursue an occupation.” Benigni v. City of Hemet, 879 F.2d 473 (9th Cir. 1989)
Importantly, police entered The Mill with overwhelming presence before the pack in the video was stopped and the fundraiser was blockaded. The police claimed that an emergency alarm signal was received from The Mill. But this was false. According to a source in close communication with the owners, “The Mill confirms that no alarm was triggered.” Moreover, there were absolutely no emergency vehicle or agency response. There was no EMT or Fire Department personnel responding which would be normal practice when an emergency alarm is triggered.
How much money was spent coordinating 11 agencies and 60 officers, including overtime and expenses, without any actionable intelligence or evidence suggesting that a crime was going to take place? Is law enforcement’s goal to discourage motorcycle club sponsored charity fundraisers in Indiana? Does it normally take 11 agencies and 60 officers to conduct a basic traffic stop for a turn signal violation?
The real question should be, “How many officers and agencies does it take to read the 1st and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution?”
States with laws addressing the issue of motorcycle profiling have reduced incidents such as are occurring in Indiana. The issue is now a national discussion with federal legislation pending. The use of public resources to conduct unconstitutional policing must stop.
The MPP has forwarded this article to all 11 agencies involved. Victims of discrimination and concerned citizens filing formal complaints against unconstitutional and abusive behavior is the first step in responsible advocacy. Law enforcement will either change their behavior or further develop a pattern of evidence demanding legislative relief.