Pigs Cleared In Angel Shooting
South Dakota Circuit Court Judge Warren Johnson on November 14, 2008, dismissed the last criminal charges filed against members of the Iron Pigs police motorcycle gang involved in the barroom shooting of a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club during a barroom fight during the 2008 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
The remaining charges of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit against Seattle Police Detective Ron Smith, Seattle Police Sergeant Dennis McCoy, U.S. Customs and Border Inspection officers Scott Lazalde, of Bellingham, Washington, and James Rector, of Ferndale, Washington, were dismissed after Smith’s attorney, Robert Van Norman, argued the four officers were protected under a federal law that allows off-duty law-enforcement officers to carry weapons anywhere they choose, including a bar.
The only charges remaining as a result of the August 9, 2008, altercation at the Loud American Roadhouse are a misdemeanor concealed weapon charge against Iron Pig member Defense Department firefighter Erik Pingel, of Aurora, Colorado, and a felony aggravated assault charge against the shooting victim, Joseph McGuire of Imperial beach, California.
Pingel is a Department of Defense firefighter at Buckley Air force Base and held a concealed-pistol permit from Colorado at the time of the shooting, but may have violated a South Dakota prohibition against carrying a firearm where alcohol is sold. McGuire is a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle club and was unarmed at the time of the shooting.
The federal law cited by Van Norman in securing the dismissal is known as LEOSA—Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act--allows off-duty officers to carry a concealed firearm anywhere in the United States…with some exceptions.
The law does not 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. LEOSA 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.
Erik Pingel, the firefighter, is not covered by the LEOSA provisions.
In spite of the law, Meade County State's Attorney Jesse Sondreal, who intended to prosecute the officers in question, said the act did not apply in this case.
"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."
Earlier this year, the gun possession charges against the officers sparked outrage from police associations around the county, including the Law Enforcement Alliance of America. The national association had successfully lobbied for a 2004 law that allows, with minimal restrictions, off-duty officers to carry guns even when outside their home state.
Virginia-based Law Enforcement Alliance of America focused on the case out of concern that prosecutors were not following the law, and pressured prosecutors to drop charges against the four officers.
"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."
Sondreal has not commented publicly on the decision made by Johnson.
Owners of the Loud American Roadhouse have voiced their displeasure at the events.
“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 owners of Loud American Roadhouse. “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 bar has since implemented a “No Colors” policy, according to local press reports.
“We’re committed to making sure our customers are safe and feel safe in the Loud American Roadhouse,” Kinney said.
The move came a day after a Meade County, South Dakota, grand jury called for the arrests of all six persons involved in the fracas.
While Smith has made no comment on the recent events, he told The Seattle Times shortly after the incident that he had opened fire after McGuire and other members of the Hells Angels jumped him inside the Loud American Roadhouse. Smith claimed the Hells Angels targeted him because he testified in a high-profile federal racketeering and murder trial in Seattle last year that sent several HAMC members to prison.
All five members of the Iron Pigs, a three-piece patch group made up of police and firefighters, were quickly whisked out of South Dakota after the shooting, and were placed on administrative leave and subject to internal investigation. The two border agents were returned to duty earlier this fall without public comment.
Seattle Police declined to comment on the department's internal investigation into the Sturgis shooting, though Smith and McCoy have reportedly recently returned to duty.
While the key players in the drama remain tight-lipped, Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officer's Guild, applauded the decision in the Seattle media. He reportedly said he and “others” were “puzzled” by the South Dakota prosecutor's decision to file gun charges against Smith and McCoy, whom he claimed were lawfully armed.
"This is a day of vindication for Detective Smith and Sergeant McCoy." O'Neill crowed in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story. "It's very good news for both the officers involved," O'Neill said. "We said that as soon as all the facts came out, it would show there was no wrongdoing. I think it's a good thing he was armed. Had he not been, I think we would have been going to an officer's funeral."
This effectively ends the criminal actions against the four officers unless Sondreal decides to appeal the ruling made by Johnson.