On April 29, 2010, QuickThrottle Magazine received the first of a series of emails with the subject “A Very Concerning Situation,” by Paul Lemoine. (Edited for brevity and clarity.)
"This weekend should have been a time for celebration for Downaz Ridaz, M.C., as we had planned to commemorate our first year anniversary of our Las Vegas Chapter. Instead, it was filled with chaos and confusion for members and guests.
"Prior to the party, our club leaders took extra steps to ensure compliance with all the City’s rules and ordinances. We were assured by a North Las Vegas City official that alcohol was allowed for consumption at the party as long as it was not being sold. We used fliers to promote our free “casino-theme” anniversary celebration to the motorcycling community. We offered complimentary drinks and homemade food to our guests.
"At 9:30 that kick-off Friday night, some 25 uniformed and undercover officers swarmed the gathering, ordered our guests to leave, and announced, “The party is over!” These officers were from the North Las Vegas Police Department’s gang unit, S.W.A.T., the Business License Division, and the Nevada Gaming Control Board. At the time of the raid, another club member and I were directing traffic for the arriving guests. The two of us were handcuffed and much later charged with “working without a valid work card.” Several other members were also placed into custody while officers confiscated and disposed of all the food and drinks. Club members were cuffed and detained inside for three hours while officers issued citations. A few doors down, a man who stepped out of his business to see what was going on, was also placed into custody for having an “open container.” He was drinking a Coca-Cola with ice in a plastic cup. Gaming Control found no evidence of gambling.
"After hours of questioning, those of us that were handcuffed were loaded into the back seats of patrol cars. No Miranda rights were given and none of us were told why we were being arrested.
"As officers were beginning to leave the property, a motorcyclist entered the parking lot. As he approached, a hooded undercover officer – who did not identify himself to the rider – stepped into the rider’s path and ordered him to stop. The rider swerved to avoid hitting the hooded man, and as the rider passed, the officer withdrew his handgun. With the rider still in motion, the officer reached out and grabbed him by the shirt, jerking him off his bike and onto the ground. Several other officers rushed to assist the hooded officer subdue the stunned and potentially injured rider while repeating the order to, “Stop resisting!” I witnessed the entire scene from about a 20-foot distance and could not believe what I was seeing. I heard the undercover cop joke afterward when he said he was glad he didn’t shoot him, or they [the cops] would have been stuck there doing paperwork all night.
"Seven of us were placed into custody and by 1:00 a.m. we were transported to the North Las Vegas Detention Center. A bondsman was contacted and by 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning, bail was arranged for most of us. However, bond could not be posted because our files kept being shuffled to the bottom of the stack each time a jail administrator got to them. Our friends and family called throughout the night, only to be given conflicting information. No one would tell us why we were arrested and how long we would be detained. By 4:30 p.m. Saturday, we were finally officially booked, and bond was posted. Most of us were released at approximately 6:30 a.m., Sunday morning. That’s when we discovered that we were being charged with violations ranging from “working without valid work permits,” to “operating a business without a license.” Fines total into the tens of thousands. To add insult to injury, policies at the North Las Vegas Detention Center require that confiscated monies be returned in the form of pre-paid credit cards which carry extremely high fees and make recovery of cash difficult.
"The effects of these detainments have caused many hardships and jeopardized peoples’ jobs. The club is currently being advised by legal counsel. North Las Vegas has made it clear to the motorcycling community that bikers are not welcome. They may be harassed, followed, put under surveillance, jailed without reasonable cause, and held for the maximum amount of time before being charged. If you wear a patch, you’re a target!
"What happened to my club – a family club – was a violation of our civil rights. Please consider publishing our story in your magazine, as I believe these events represent a potential nightmare for any organized motorcycle group.
Paul’s report to us is well corroborated by in-depth interviews with witnesses, contact with one of the defense attorneys, online North Las Vegas Municipal Court records (sample), and journalist observations of court proceedings.
The rider that was jerked off his motorcycle by a hooded cop was the only person charged with a felony – attempted murder of a police officer by using a deadly weapon. He ultimately pled down to a DUI and served 30 days in jail. An interview with this person was not obtained, but there was no indication in any of the online documentation or witness accounts that his alcohol level was tested.
Paul’s original charge, “working without a valid work card” was reduced to “impeding traffic.” His case went through four court proceedings from May 17 to September 29th. Total fees and fines were $562, and he paid his attorney $500 to represent him.
The club secretary was charged with six misdemeanors: failure to obtain (1) special event permit; (2) liquor permit; (3) food permit; (4) health permit; (5) advertising within city limits without a city business license; and (6) employing person without a valid work card. Total fines: $6,322. The club president had virtually similar charges so the two teamed up to retain the services of defense attorney, Patrick McDonald. McDonald defended the president, the secretary, and a third club-member. About that third member, McDonald explained that “the charge against him was dismissed because his conduct had clearly not violated any of the provisions of the North Las Vegas Municipal Code." As to the club president and secretary, McDonald stated "Some of the alleged conduct did not violate the North Las Vegas Municipal Code. Other alleged conduct may have violated the Municipal Code. Consequently a plea bargain was entered into – between the clients and the City of North Las Vegas – that benefited both the clients and the City of North Las Vegas.”
The secretary took a plea bargain to lower the first four charges to “jaywalking,” and the fifth and sixth charges were dismissed. Each jaywalking fine was $200 and the court added fees totaling $448. The club president had the exact same outcome. The cost to put these two cases to rest was $4,796 - including the $1,500 attorney fees. It took seven months to resolve, six court appearances, time lost from work, and lives put on hold. Any violation of the rules of court would have resulted in an arrest warrant. According to McDonald, these defendants had no right to a court-appointed attorney because “the North Las Vegas City Attorney's Office was not seeking jail sentences as part of any sentence on a conviction.” So by lawyering-up, the club president and secretary saved over $10,000, combined.
But more digging revealed more details. The cases involving the club president, secretary, and Paul, were all heard by Judge Warren VanLandschoot, elected by the people of North Las Vegas. This judge is not an attorney. Rather, according to his official online bio, VanLandschoot “served 28 years with the North Las Vegas Police Department.”
Does VanLandschoot express any anti-motorcyclist or pro-North Las Vegas PD bias in his courtroom? Consider this: No recordings of any kind are allowed in this courthouse. The public is not allowed to bring any electronic devices - no cell phones, no audio or video recorders. According to a court clerk, the North Las Vegas Municipal Court “is not a court of record.” That means that the court does not have any sort of transcript, audio, or video recordings of any proceedings. Therefore, how could anyone prove if judge bias or misconduct existed? To whom would a citizen appeal for justice?
Facts: You have ten calendar days to make notification to appeal your case to the district court level; you must pay any fine before or during your appeal process – not after; and, you start over with a brand new arraignment, judge, pretrial, and trial.
Is the power of the North Las Vegas judicial system balanced in favor of justice or corruption? QuickThrottle Magazine is investigating yet another motorcycle-related case in Judge VanLandschoot’s court.
Did the justice system fail these motorcycle enthusiasts? Who will be targeted next? Although Paul remains good friends with members of the club, he recently made a decision to no longer wear his patch. He said, “I am looking forward to leaving this city for good one day. There are still areas of this country where I can ride a motorcycle and wear a leather vest without the threat of being labeled a criminal.” Paul is expressing frustration and exhaustion. Despite the difficulty of his personal predicament, he cared enough to warn fellow motorcyclists by exposing North Las Vegas. Paul Lemoine is an American patriot and hero and he deserves our gratitude for shedding light on “A Very Concerning Situation.”
Special thanks to Taz, Dave, Renegade, and Bones – local community motorcycle activism leaders. Each played key roles in this investigation.