Saturation patrol at charity event involving Hells Angels nets 6 arrests

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The May 19 saturation patrol outside a Burns Harbor bar where the Hells Angels motorcycle group was participating in what the bar owner said was a charity event netted six arrests, mostly for misdemeanor charges, the Porter County Sheriff's Department said.

"I think we accomplished what we wanted to do. We wanted to show a presence, not necessarily write tickets," said Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds, adding law enforcement officials decided on the best plan of attack to secure public safety. "We thought it was to be visible and be clear that we're here."

The owner of The Mill Bar & Grill, Teresa Wright, has said the May 19 "bike night" was a fundraiser for SELF School, a Valparaiso facility that provides educational services to children with disabilities, and for kids with cancer who are home-schooled.

The event, she said at the time, drew around 100 motorcycles as well as groups other than the Hells Angels. Similar fundraisers are scheduled with the Hells Angels members at the bar throughout the summer.

"I'm really confident we'll be prepared if and when they show up again," Reynolds said, noting that the Hells Angels are classified as an "outlaw motorcycle gang" by a 2011 Department of Justice report.

The saturation patrol came after a meeting with multiple law enforcement agencies about how to handle the Hells Angels when they came in for the event, Reynolds said.

In all, police made traffic stops on 65 motorcycles and cars and issued 21 citations; three written warnings; and impounded four vehicles, said Sgt. Jamie Erow, public information officer for the department, which organized the patrol.

She did not have overtime costs for the patrol but said most of the officers working that day were already on duty.

The patrol, which lasted several hours that night at U.S. 20 and Indiana 149 outside bar, 295 Melton Ave., involved about 60 officers from 10 law enforcement departments.

Police and the members of the motorcycle group videotaped each other throughout their interactions, Reynolds said, and while some local members of the Hells Angels were respectful with police, "some from Chicago were not. They were very boisterous from the get-go, and I thought our guys responded very professionally."

Law enforcement officials were concerned about what would happen if they didn't make a presence during the fundraiser, Reynolds said, a point he also made after the saturation patrols for the rap concerts.

The department last organized saturation patrols about two months ago, for back-to-back rap concerts at Big Shots in South Haven. The patrols involved more than 40 officers from multiple departments, netted seven arrests one night and six the next, and cost the sheriff's department alone almost $4,000 in overtime.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana keeps a weary eye on saturation patrols when it comes to the First Amendment.

"We do not have a position on saturation patrols, however we always advise caution when government entities seek to control speech that may be protected by the First Amendment," said Kelly Jones Sharp, a spokeswoman there.

But Heath Carter, president of Valparaiso's Advisory Human Relations Council, said he doesn't have a problem with saturation patrols. Carter has been working closely with Reynolds on data collection, implicit bias training and community relations since the arrest last fall of Darryl Jackson.

"Obviously, if it appeared that a particular community or subset of a community was a consistent target of such patrols, we would want to understand the rationale and be sure that the decision to proceed in that manner was consistent with best practices," he said in an email. "It sounds as though that is not what is happening here and that these three recent patrols fall well within the bounds of reason."

Police also are looking into follow-up matters from the Hells Angels patrol, including possible excise violations and whether the bar was over its occupancy limit.

"I think the underlying thing the average person in Porter County needs to know is all of law enforcement worked in concert and it was worth it," Reynolds said. "Of course it comes with a price tag and we don't know what that is yet."

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