HEMET – Following similar action recently taken by Riverside County, the city of Hemet today offered a mea culpa of sorts to a motorcycle club that filed a defamation lawsuit over how its members were allegedly characterized during an investigation into failed terrorist attacks on law enforcement officials in Hemet.
In March, the Inland Empire-based Vagos International Motorcycle Club filed a complaint seeking unspecified damages and a formal apology from the county, former District Attorney Rod Pacheco, District Attorney’s Office Public Information Officer John Hall, county Gang Task Force commander Walter Meyer, Hemet police Chief Richard Dana and the city of Hemet.
According to court papers, the suit stemmed from a March 17, 2010, news conference during which Pacheco and Dana detailed a four-state sweep targeting Vagos members for alleged weapons and drug violations.
More than 30 bikers affiliated with the gang — which law enforcement officials maintain deals widely in drugs and other contraband — were arrested.
The news conference was called at the height of an investigation into a series of failed attacks on members of the Hemet-San Jacinto Gang Task Force. Attempts on officers’ lives included booby-traps attached to squad cars, a gas line routed into an office building and a bazooka rocket — which turned out to be a dud — fired from a rooftop.
Neither Dana or Pacheco would confirm that the Vagos sweep was linked to the attacks, but there were allusions to the organization’s hostility toward law enforcement.
Dana described the suspects as ”a bunch of cockroaches running for the woods.”
Nicolas Jon Smit of Hemet and Steven Hanson of Homeland — neither of whom have ties to the Vagos — were charged three months later with carrying out several of the attacks on the anti-gang officers.
Riverside County officials released a statement earlier this month declaring that the Vagos are no longer under suspicion and expressing regret for ”any emotionally charged or colorful remarks made by, or at the direction of, the former district attorney, Rod Pacheco, during the heat of the investigation.”
Hemet’s statement is virtually identical to the county’s, stressing that comments ”expressly or impliedly offensive to the Vagos are unfortunate.”
Los Angeles attorney Joe Yanny, the motorcycle club’s legal counsel, told City News Service on Aug. 1 that the county’s statement, and the forthcoming one from Hemet, were all that were needed to settle the lawsuit.
”The fact of the matter is, the Vagos didn’t have anything to do with the incidents out in Hemet.” Yanny said. ”Now these men can get on with their lives and enjoy their rights without being harassed.”