True colors: Cops vs. Pagan's

Posted: September 28, 2011

NO POLICE officer who's old enough to remember will ever forget the Mudman. It was May 6, 1995, when paroled murderer Robert "Mudman" Simon, a member of the Warlock Motorcycle Club, executed police Sgt. Ippolito Gonzalez on the side of a road, during a traffic stop in Gloucester County. The grizzled hell-raiser was later stomped to death during a battle on death row.

Nowadays, officers also have to worry about lawsuits when they pull over a "one-percenter" - a way bikers describe themselves as the 1 percent of the population that doesn't follow the rules.

Biker gangs might have a well-deserved reputation, but one local attorney who represents several clubs, including the Pagan's, says that "reputation" isn't a valid reason for a traffic stop.

"Some of this tension between the cops and the bikers is because the cops hassle them all the time," said Norristown attorney Boyd Spencer, who represents the Eastern Pa. Confederation of Clubs.

Spencer is representing three bikers in a civil-rights lawsuit stemming from a July 30, 2009, traffic stop involving six motorcycles in Burlington County. Two of the defendants, James Coles and Louis DeGailler, are Pagan's MC members, and the third defendant, Joseph Ballinger, was a Tribe MC member at the time.

According to the complaint, the bikers were ticketed for not having approved helmets and were told to remove their "colors," the patched jackets members wear. The whole traffic stop, which lasted more than an hour, was captured by mounted cameras in the police cruisers.

"Now you're all going to take your jackets off, because on this highway, these are the only colors," one of the state troopers, referring to State Police blue and gold, told the group after nearly 50 minutes had passed.

The bikers didn't budge.

None of them took off his colors. The helmets were later found to be legal, and a prosecutor dismissed the charges. Spencer, who said the demand to take off their colors was out of bounds, chalks up the traffic stop to harassment.

The state has filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed.

Spencer said he always hears about bikers' getting harassed.

"I've got a guy in Upper Darby who gets pulled over every time he goes out on his bike," he said.

Upper Darby police Superintendent Michael Chitwood Sr. said bikers get pulled over if they break traffic laws, like anyone else. Police keep tabs on them, though.

"These operations have become very sophisticated. They know what their rights are and what the police can do," he said.

Upper Darby also has reason to be on edge about one-percenters. In 2002, one of their own, Officer Dennis McNamara, was shot and killed by former Pagan Thomas James "Tom Thumb" Campbell.

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