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Vagos Motorcycle Club sues Riverside County law enforcement agencies alleging defamation

Comments by the district attorney and Hemet's police chief referring to the group as 'cockroaches' and 'terrorists' damaged its reputation, the suit says.

March 19, 2011|By Robert J. Lopez and Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times
  • A motorcycle was confiscated in Hemet during raids by federal and local law enforcement officials targeting the Vagos Motorcycle Club.
A motorcycle was confiscated in Hemet during raids by federal and local… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

The Vagos Motorcycle Club alleges in a lawsuit that Riverside County law enforcement authorities defamed the group and damaged its reputation by falsely linking members to attacks against Hemet police officers.

Statements made by officials, including former Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco and Hemet Police Chief Richard Dana, described the group as "cockroaches" and "terrorists" who "practice an extreme brand of violence," the lawsuit states.

The comments implicated the Vagos club in the attacks and were made in the wake of Operation Everywhere, a March 2010 law enforcement action targeting 30 alleged members, according to the suit filed Thursday in Riverside County Superior Court.

None of those arrested in connection with the attacks were Vagos members, the lawsuit said.

Pacheco said Friday he had not seen the lawsuit, but he brushed aside the allegations leveled against him and others. He called the Vagos club one of the most "intimidating street gangs in California."

"I don't know if they are trying to say they are some of kind of social club or something, but that's not the case," said Pacheco, who now for works for a law firm in Los Angeles. "This appears to be just another intimidation tactic by a gang, a criminal street gang."

In an interview with The Times on the day of the arrests, Pacheco said the operation was "just the beginning" of continued law enforcement actions against the club.

"They represent an extreme threat to law enforcement," Pacheco said at the time. "The goal is to eliminate this threat."

The operation came amid intense efforts to identify suspects in the attacks, which included diverting a natural gas line into the offices of the Hemet-San Jacinto Valley Gang Task Force, torching four Hemet code-enforcement trucks and setting up a zip-gun booby trap that fired a bullet at an officer when he opened a security gate.

Two Riverside County men were arrested last July in connection with seven attacks against Hemet police.

Beverly Hills attorney Joseph Yanny, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Vagos, said the men arrested have no connection to the group. He accused Pacheco of blaming the Vagos to help bolster his failed reelection bid. He was voted out of office in June.

"My guys have been improperly painted for long enough and hard enough for something they had nothing to do with that it's time to put an end to this by whatever means necessary," Yanny told The Times. "I truly believe [law enforcement officials] knew the people who were engaging in actions against the Hemet Police Department were not the Vagos."

Dana was not available for comment. Officials with the district attorney's office declined to comment.

robert.lopez@latimes.com

phil.willon@latimes.com

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