They cut an imposing figure.
Heads turn and people tend to keep their distance when members of Bakersfield’s local outlaw motorcycle gangs enter an establishment. Instantly recognizable due to their leather vests with patches proclaiming their affiliation, these groups historically have a reputation for violence.
Some recent incidents involving the groups have only furthered that reputation. One was a deadly stabbing at a popular dive bar involving two motorcycle gang members, the other an exchange of gunshots in broad daylight during a fundraiser on Buck Owens Boulevard.
Those who spot members of a biker gang are best advised to leave them alone. Anyone who starts trouble could quickly find himself surrounded and in extreme physical danger.
“They engage in acts of violence or drug sales as needed,” said Senior Police Officer Louis James, of the Bakersfield Police Department’s gang unit.
“If one engages in a physical altercation, the others will engage, too,” he said.
The Hells Angels, Mongols and Devils Diciples all have a presence in the Bakersfield area, with the Hells Angels maintaining a clubhouse in the Oildale area. James said the Mongols claim to have a clubhouse locally but he’s never seen it.
While the Devils Diciples have a Bakesfield patch, they don’t have a clubhouse here. There are also several Vagos members in town, James said.
Dive bars are the usual hangout for these groups, but they sometimes turn up in unexpected places. For example, James said, police received a call of some biker gang members at Wiki’s Wine Dive & Grill, an upscale establishment.
Their numbers are relatively small, but there’s something about biker gang members, probably due to their reputation, that people generally become more concerned if they see a fight break out between them, according to James.
Those who join these gangs are referred to as “1-percenters,” taken from a quote from the American Motorcycle Association saying 99 percent of motorcycle riders abide by the law. The implication is these 1 percent don’t.
Exact numbers can be hard to tally because some members may be living in town while others might be from a chapter in another city stopping in for a fundraiser or other event.
The officer gave the following estimates for local biker gang members:
- Hells Angels: more than 20.
- Devils Diciples: more than 10.
- Mongols: more than 10.
- Vagos: fewer than 10.
RECENT INCIDENTS AND RIVALRIES
Last month, Hells Angels affiliate Michael Adam Morales, 32, was fatally stabbed at Guthrie’s Alley Cat in downtown Bakersfield. His accused killer is Russell Vannoy, 60, a member of Devils Diciples.
There previously was no rivalry between the two gangs, but James said the killing of Morales, known as “Mikey Smash,” has the potential to cause trouble between the two. He said he doesn’t know if there are meetings going on between the hierarchies of the two groups to make peace, or if this is possibly the start of a rivalry.
In another high-profile case, members of the Mongols gang in May showed up at a Hells Angels bike wash to provoke the rival gang. Police said one of the Mongols, Ricardo Viera, fired a round from a pump-action pistol grip shotgun into a crowd of people at the event, injuring at least one person.
A Hells Angels affiliate, whose name was never released, armed himself with a handgun and fired several rounds at Viera, killing him. Three Mongols were later charged with multiple offenses in connection with the incident. The Hells Angels affiliate was not charged after it was determined he acted in self-defense.
There has long been a rivalry between the Mongols and Hells Angels. In an incident that made national news, a massive brawl between the two groups broke out at a Nevada casino in 2002. A Mongol was stabbed to death and two Hells Angels fatally shot during the melee.
In Bakersfield, James said, a lot of the incidents of violence involving these gangs don’t involve firearms. Most are assaults, not shootings.
Police step up enforcement after incidents involving them, James said, to determine who is on probation or parole and let them know they’re keeping an eye on them.
MEMBERSHIP AND INSIGNIA
Some biker gang members may be unemployed. Others hold down jobs with six-figure salaries. James recalled a case in which a gangster from out of town was employed as a defense attorney.
Regarding those members with full-time jobs, James said, “They got in the gang at one point and remained there yet are still successful in their normal life. They still attend meetings and participate in runs.”
Usually, James said, biker gang members are civil if police contact them asking about a motorcycle run or what they’ve been doing in general. They typically begin getting agitated if questioned regarding specific crimes.
Those who are the most confrontational are the “prospects,” which are bikers interested in joining the gang but who are on a probationary period — typically a year — before becoming full-fledged members allowed to wear the group’s full patch. Prospects are expected to prove their loyalty and engage in activities as directed by members.
They’re the ones most likely to be arrested.
A word about those patches: members have been known to kill over them. Even something as simple as tapping a gang member on the back and touching the patch can lead to a beating or worse.
“They consider the patch one of their most prized possessions,” James said.
Each gang has its own insignia. The Hells Angels’ insignia is a death’s head with wings, the Mongols’ a cartoon Genghis Khan-like figure riding a motorcycle, the Devils Diciples’ a wheel with tridents crossing it and the Vagos’ features Loki, the god of mischief in Norse mythology.
James asked that anyone who sees a large gathering of biker gang members notify police so they can check out the situation and identify who they are and what chapter they’re from. Also notify police if outlaw motorcycle gangs are spotted at a bar.
There’s always the potential for violence if a rival group show up.
“We don’t want any members to get killed or injured, or any bystanders either,” James said.
Jason Kotowski can be reached at 661-395-7491. Follow him on Twitter: @tbcbreakingnews.