Promoter of cyclist toy drive disputes police characterization

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A promoter of a toy-collection event put on earlier this month by a Ventura motorcycle club disputes police allegations that the event was affiliated with gangs.

Jerry Jeffreys was one of a few people to contact The Star saying they disliked that authorities used the word "gang" to describe the motorcycle clubs that attended the event.

Jeffreys, a member of the Sons of Hell motorcycle club, helped organize the Dec. 18 event at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall at 3801 Market St. in Ventura. The event was hosted by the Ventura chapter of Hells Angels, which puts on a toy drive every year, Jeffreys said.

Jeffreys said he helped promote the event by sharing it on social media and contacted the recipient of the collected toys, RAIN Transitional Living Center, a housing program for homeless families.

Local law enforcement agencies conducted high-visibility directed enforcement in the area on the day of the event after seeing a flier stating that Hells Angels was the host and alcohol would be served, said Sgt. Brian Slominski, of the Ventura County sheriff's gang unit.

"Events like these are held every year throughout the country and historically tend to have illegal street racing, alcohol-fueled violence and shootings," the Ventura County Sheriff's Office stated in a news release.

To prevent these illegal activities, the gang unit and Ventura police conducted their enforcement efforts, Slominski said. Five people were arrested on suspicion of drug and weapon violations and 16 traffic-related violations were issued, but not inside the event, he said.

"We were off the property completely," Slominski said.

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Although these groups use the term "motorcycle clubs," they are motorcycle gangs in the eyes of law enforcement, Slominski said.

Jeffreys said he thinks the term is derogatory and has a negative connotation. He said motorcycle clubs and people associated with these groups should not be looked upon poorly.

"It makes the people who attended feel like they're part of something they're not," Jeffreys said. The toy drive included Christian and veterans motorcycle clubs, Jeffreys said.

Slominski said not all of the people who were at the event were affiliated with gang activity but that based on the information officials had, he stands by the enforcement efforts.

Jeffreys said he understood why law enforcement officers might be in the area during the event but said the high number of uniformed officers was a bit much. He also said that even though officers were not on the property, many of the people at the event were stopped by officers simply because they went to the toy drive.

"That's profiling," Jeffreys said. "That's harassment."

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