Matthew Vasquez testified on Thursday that the beating that left Troy Harris with permanent injuries ensued unexpectedly when Harris showed a sign of “disrespect” toward Vasquez and six other Pagans who encountered the former member of their club at a social hall in Charleroi.
“Troy had a smirk on his face when he put his hand out to shake” Jason Huff’s hand, Vasquez recounted.
Vasquez, 31, of Monessen, spoke on the third day of testimony in his jury trial on charges of aggravated assault, attempted homicide, conspiracy to commit those two crimes and simple assault. His co-defendant, Joseph Olinsky III, 46, of McKeesport, also waived his right not to speak in his own defense. The charges stem from the April 18 beating at the Charleroi Slovak Club, 700 McKean Ave. It occurred at roughly 10:20 p.m.
Olinsky and Vasquez are being held in jail pending the outcome of their cases.
The prosecution contends that Harris, ex-president of the Fayette City chapter of the Pagans, was beaten so badly he was flown to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh because he’d left the club years earlier and joined a rival motorcycle club, the Sutars Soldiers. But during his testimony, Vasquez told his attorney, Stephen Colafella, he’d had no intention of hurting or killing Harris, 54, of Fallowfield Township, that night.
Vasquez, who was second in line behind Huff, insisted there was a gun in a holster on Harris’ hip. This portion of his testimony appeared to violate an order by Common Pleas Judge John DiSalle. The order barred information about one or more guns Harris allegedly had on his person at the time of the incident. DiSalle did tell jurors to ignore a reference to how Harris wasn’t supposed to possesses a gun, apparently because part of the order prohibited testimony about a prior conviction against Harris.
Deputy District Attorney Jason Walsh pressed Vasquez, including on the assertion that it was a coincidence that they’d walked into the bar single file and attacked Harris as a group before he had time so much to get out of his chair.
“This wasn’t about Troy Harris disrespecting you when you walked in that bar and you know it,” Walsh said.
Vasquez said he knew “how dangerous of a person Troy Harris is.”
“Sir, we’re lucky somebody didn’t get shot and killed,” Vasquez added.
“You are lucky someone didn’t get killed, and it’s Troy Harris,” Walsh countered.
Among the government’s witnesses earlier in the trial was Paul Cochran, 55, one of the Pagans who were charged in the case. Earlier in the trial, he testified the group’s national sergeant at arms, Michael Barringer, had ordered the bikers to “teach (Harris) a lesson” because he’d provoked them by encroaching on their territory by being at the Slovak Club.
Vasquez, sergeant at arms of the Fayette City chapter, said there’d been no order or plan to attack or kill Harris that night. Instead, he’d gotten a call from his then-fiancée, Jamie Granato, who quickly put his friend Zachary Yagnich on the line. Yagnich told him he was thinking of going to the Slovak Club and that Harris would be there. Vasquez said Harris was a bully who’d humiliated and embarrassed Yagnich – a Pagan supporter – since Harris was thrown out of the club about five years earlier. Yagnich didn’t stand up for himself, so Vasquez’s presence stopped Harris from picking on him.
Yagnich, vice president of the members-only social hall, was waiting for them in the parking lot and led them in, unlocking the door for them.
Vasquez said Harris happened to be sitting in the path the group took on the way to the spot they wanted, where they could face the door. But once he struck Harris, he found himself in a scuffle for the handgun Harris went on to pull after suffering two blows. “Gun!” Vasquez said he shouted. They were both on the ground for a time, but Vasquez said he managed to get back on his feet.
Meanwhile, others from the crew were landing kicks on Harris. Among the witnesses whose testimony Vasquez contradicted was Michele Mackey Harris’. She’d said that she was on the ground with her husband, but saw no one else there. Other witnesses had similarly said that they didn’t see the assailants go down.
“Sir, none of those guys were actually able to see what was happening below the bar,” Vasquez said of those who’d been elsewhere in the room.
Vasquez also denied allegations by Granato, now another state witness, that he’d been physically abusive to her during their five-year relationship.
Huff, Barringer, and most others charged in the case already entered pleas in deals with prosecutors. Vasquez said the other men did so because they didn’t expect to get a fair trial.
Earlier on Thursday, Terry Katz, a retired lieutenant for the Maryland State Police, testified as the prosecution’s final witness. Katz spent several years undercover infiltrating the Pagans and now works for the agency as a civilian. He testified as an expert on motorcycle gangs.
Katz said members of one such “one-percenter” club would generally retaliate against someone who left their group to join a rival club and then encroached on their turf.
“In the most extreme cases, you might have serious injury resulting in death,” Katz said.
Colafella asked if it would be a “big deal” to take action against a member of an officer in a club.
“No,” said Katz,”it’s what you do, being in an outlaw motorcycle gang.”
Walsh later asked Vasquez about Katz’s description of outlaw motorcycle culture. Vasquez said times have changed.
“It’s not all outlaw and criminal behavior and all that stuff that everybody thinks it is,” he said.