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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Attorney for alleged Hells Angels member seeks personnel records of sheriff, sergeant


11:43 | ,

 

attorney for a Sonoma County man charged in connection with a June fight between rival motorcycle gang members is seeking access to the personnel records of Lake County's sheriff and other agency staffers, alleging political motivations in the case's handling. Oakland attorney Michael Clough filed the Pitchess motion for the personnel records of Sheriff Frank Rivero and Sgt. John Gregore, lead investigator in the case, on Sept. 12. Clough represents 33-year-old Nicolas Carrillo of Santa Rosa, arrested in August for a June 4 fight at Konocti Vista Casino outside of Lakeport. The Sept. 12 filing leaves open the possibility of other sheriff's staffers being added to the list of individuals whose records Clough wants to access. “It's possible that we will file additional Pitchess motions as we get additional discovery,” said Clough. “We anticipate that there's going to be a substantial amount of discovery and motions in the case.” Clough's Pitchess motion is scheduled to be heard on Oct. 17 in Lake County Superior Court. County Counsel Anita Grant, whose office represents the sheriff's office in the matter, said the county will fight the attempt to delve into the men's records. Carrillo – along with fellow Sonoma County residents Timothy Bianchi, Joshua Johnson and David Dabbs – is alleged to be Hells Angels members who participated in the beating of a member of the rival Vagos motorcycle gang, according to the original sheriff's report in the case. In the wake of his arrest for the Lake County case, Josh Johnson was just recently arrested by the FBI, according to Peter Lee of the FBI's San Francisco office. However, Lee could not offer Lake County News further information about the arrest. The District Attorney's Office previously reported that charges against Carrillo include felony participation in a criminal street gang, misdemeanor fighting in public, misdemeanor battery and several special allegations relating to the infliction of great bodily injury and the participation in a criminal street gang. Clough wants information about any complaints filed against Rivero alleging violations of civil and constitutional rights, selective enforcement or prosecution and bias against the Hells Angels, as well as any evidence of “providing or authorizing subordinate officers to release false and/or misleading information about pending investigations to the media” as well as “use of office to conduct politically motivated investigations.” He's seeking similar information for Gregore, as well as evidence of mishandling or failing to disclose evidence, submitting unreasonable requests for excessive bail, preparation of false or incomplete reports, and false or perjured testimony. Other information of interest to Clough is anything that would support allegations that the Lake County Sheriff's Office, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and the FBI selectively targeted members of the Sonoma County Hells Angels chapter for investigation and prosecution, and if there was a conspiracy to violate the chapter members' civil rights. The goal is to find information favorable to Carrillo's defense that would impeach the testimony of prosecution witnesses at trial, according to the document. Pitchess motions are based on a 1974 California Supreme Court case, Pitchess v. Superior Court, and have since been included in the California Evidence Code. A Pitchess motion is based on the theory that a defendant in a criminal case should have any information that could help their defense, including information about potential misconduct in an arresting officer's personnel files. The right of a defendant to have that information is balanced against a peace officer's rights to maintain the privacy of his or her personnel file. California law has firm protections to guard peace officers in such cases. Grant, whose office has received the motion, said they will respond as the county always does in such cases. The county always and “without exception” responds to Pitchess motions, Grant said, due to concerns that are described in case law as “fishing expeditions.” The legal definition of a “fishing expedition” describes open-ended attempts to get information, and overly broad, unfocused questioning that is not within the case's scope. The county has fought previous attempts to open peace officer records, including one lodged in 2009 during the trial of Bismarck Dinius, who was acquitted in a fatal boating crash. Dinius was steering a sailboat hit in 2006 by a motorboat driven by an off-duty sheriff's deputy, Russell Perdock. Dinius' attorney sought Perdock's records through a Pitchess motion, which both county counsel and Perdock's attorney successfully fought. Carrillo's case is continuing to move forward, with a preliminary hearing still to take place. Bail in Carrillo's case was set at $500,000, which Clough had argued in court filings was excessive. He asked to have it reduced to $75,000. Clough said in his motion that Carrillo has never been charged with a violent criminal offense before this case, and his only conviction on record is for driving on a suspended license. Clough argued that it appeared that Carrillo's Hells Angels membership led to the high bail, and if that's the case it violates Carrillo's constitutional right to freedom of expression and equal protection. The filings in the case also reference a May 14 event during which the Vagos visited Lakeport. That same day, county law enforcement received information from an FBI agent claiming that a group of Hells Angels members were en route to the county to confront the Vagos. Rivero sent a group of deputies to the Middletown area in case the Hells Angels appeared. It's alleged that he was planning to turn the Hells Angels back if they arrived, which Rivero has denied, stating instead in an investigative report that he planned to put in place a roadblock in order to engage in contact with the bikers. Possible civil rights violations in the case remain under investigation by the Lake County District Attorney's Office. Rivero has continued to voice concern over the rival gangs and their activities, sending an e-mail to local media and county leaders over the weekend referencing a news story about a fight and shootout between the two groups that claimed the life of a California Hells Angels leaders in a casino in Las Vegas, Nev., on Sept. 23. A subsequent e-mail from Rivero informed county leaders that there is a statewide law enforcement alert from the US Marshals Service on possible retaliatory actions because of the gang shooting.


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