Iron Pig Charges Dismissed In Hells Angels Shooting
As the South Dakota legal system is dealing with charges filed in connection with a shooting incident during the Sturgis motorcycle Rally August 9,2008, at the Loud American Roadhouse, Those accused are answering the charges, and in one case, charges are being dismissed.
Prosecutors in South Dakota dismissed a felony assault charge against Seattle Police Detective Ron Smith in September after determining Smith was the victim in the barroom altercation that left a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, Joseph McGuire of Imperial Beach, California, hospitalized with two gunshot wounds.
Smith has admitted to firing the shots that wounded McGuire.
McGuire, of Imperial Beach, California, is charged with aggravated assault and simple assault. On September 24 he pleaded not guilty to those charges.
In South Dakota, an aggravated assault conviction carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and/or a $15,000 fine. A conviction on the simple assault charge has a penalty of one year in the Meade County Jail or a $1,000 fine or both. McGuire can only be convicted of one of the charges, but not both.
In dismissing the charge against Smith, Meade County State Attorney Jesse Sondreal said the aggravated-assault charge against Washington detective was dropped because "the investigation that I have reviewed indicates he was assaulted and it was premeditated."
"The law-enforcement investigation, submitted to this office, establishes that Ron Smith was defending himself from a violent premeditated attack and he responded in a manner which was neither excessive nor unreasonable under the circumstances," Sondreal said in a news release.
Earlier, Sondreal dropped a felony perjury charge against Smith in connection with the same incident. That charge stemmed from questions about ownership of the gun Smith used to shoot McGuire.
Sondreal said he "assumes" Smith was targeted because he belongs to the Iron Pigs. He went on to say said the Hells Angels could have attacked Smith because he and other Iron Pigs were dressed in clothing featuring the Iron Pigs logo, or “colors.”
Sondreal said that Smith and other Iron Pigs cooperated fully with authorities and testified before a grand jury impaneled to determine whether charges would be filed in the case.
"Mr. McGuire and his group attempted to flee the scene [after the shooting] and wouldn't cooperate and wouldn't testify before the grand jury. They all invoked their right to remain to silent," Sondreal said.
Smith claims he shot McGuire after McGuire and other members of the Hells Angels allegedly jumped him inside the Loud American Roadhouse early the morning of August 9th. Smith is a member of the Iron Pigs, a self-described “motorcycle gang” made up of law-enforcement officers and firefighters.
In addition to the now dropped aggravated assault and perjury charges, Smith was charged with a misdemeanor count of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. He still faces that misdemeanor charge, as do four other members if the Iron Pigs.
Scott Lazalde, 38, a U.S. Customs and Border Agent from Bellingham, Washington; James Rector, 44, a U.S. Customs and Border Agent from Ferndale (near Bellingham), Washington; Erik Pingel, 35, a federally employed firefighter at Buckley Air Force Base from Aurora, Colorado; and Seattle Police Sgt. Dennis McCoy, 49, of Seattle, Washington, are all charged, along with Smith, with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. A conviction on the misdemeanor could result in up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. All five men have pleaded not guilty.
Smith, Lazalde, Rector, and McCoy are expected to use The Law Enforcement Officers' Safety Act (LEOSA) of 2004 to ask for a dismissal of the consealed carry charges. The federal law allows off-duty officers to carry a concealed firearm anywhere in the U.S., with some exceptions.
The Virginia-based Law Enforcement Alliance of America is focused on the case out of concern that prosecutors aren't following that law, and is pressuring prosecutors to drop the charges.
"The reason why we passed this law was so that off-duty police officers would know with certainty what would be legal conduct," said Ted Deeds, a spokesman for the organization, which often takes stands against gun control measures. "In this case, they followed the law."
The law, however, doesn't supersede state laws permitting private entities to prohibit concealed firearms on their property or local or state restrictions on firearms in any government "installation, building, base, or park." South Dakota state law prohibits carrying a gun into a bar.
"The LEOSA contains certain exceptions under which the law enforcement officer is not protected," Sondreal said. "We feel that South Dakota's prohibition against carrying concealed weapons in bars is tantamount to one of those exceptions."
“I think it was surprising to all of us that that organization, the Iron Pigs, was in our establishment with guns,” said Dean Kinney, one of the bar’s owners. “We certainly don’t appreciate it. We’re committed to making sure our customers are safe and feel safe in the Loud American Roadhouse.”
The Law Enforcement Officers' Safety Act does not protect officers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or have been removed from duty, or haven't met their agency's standards for qualifying with the weapon. Officers also must carry their police identification.
Pingel is a U.S. Department of Defense firefighter and would presumably not be covered by the law.
"We're very happy for the development, especially for Detective Smith," said Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, of which Smith is a governing officer. "We were confident all along that when the evidence was truly analyzed this would be the result."
Seattle Police, However, are not commenting. The department has a history of firing officers charged with felonies, though Smith and McCoy were placed on administrative re-assignment during the investigation.
O'Neill said because Smith is no longer charged with a felony he should be able to return to work. He has been on administrative leave since the shooting.
Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb declined to comment about Smith, but published reports indicate he has a history of disciplinary actions while with the Seattle Police.
The August shooting was not Smith’s first confrontation with members of the Hells Angels.
Smith reportedly told The Seattle Times that he may have been targeted by the Hells Angels because he testified in a high-profile federal racketeering and murder trial in Seattle last year that sent several former and current members of the Red & White to prison.
Court records and police testimony also show that the detective has clashed with another Hells Angel before that.
In 2005, on Smith’s word, authorities filed charges alleging that Anthony James Magnesi, a member of the Washington Nomads chapter of the Hells Angels, had threatened Smith over the phone.
Magnesi, in turn, recorded one of their phone conversations and gave it to the Seattle Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), taking the position it was Smith who had threatened him.
An internal investigation was opened, and the incident was referred to Smith's supervisor as a training issue, according to OPA officials. The misdemeanor criminal charges filed against Magnesi were dismissed.
The five Iron pigs are expected back in court for proceedings on the gun charges October 29. Mcguire will appear again in November.