PROVIDENCE — The purported president of the state chapter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is challenging a judge’s refusal to step aside from hearing his case, arguing that it could create an appearance of impropriety given her husband’s 24-year career with the state police.
Joseph M. Lancia, 28, of Smithfield, is asking Superior Court Judge Kristin E. Rodgers to step down from the state’s case charging him with trying to kill an acknowledged onetime Hells Angels prospect outside the club’s Messer Street clubhouse.
Don’t forget to Follow us on YouTube for our Daily Biker News Show
Rodgers is married to now Little Compton Police Chief Scott N. Raynes, who retired as a lieutenant with the state police in February 2018.
Rodgers on April 29 issued a ruling refusing to recuse herself from hearing the case stemming from a state police raid at the Hells Angels clubhouse at 161-163 Messer St. on June 12, 2019.
In striking down the challenge raised by Lancia and his co-defendant Lance Imor, Rodgers emphasized that her husband worked as the director of the Rhode Island Municipal Training Academy from 2011 through December 2017. He returned to the Uniform Division until his retirement and was not involved in the raid or writing the search warrants.
His only visit to the Messer Street clubhouse was in 2004, when he was part of the tactical team that helped secure the premises, she said.
“To suggest that Chief Raynes’ entry into that particular premises decades ago creates an appearance of impropriety is as unreasonable as concluding that recusal is required in a motor vehicle accident case where a judicial officer’s spouse patrolled the roadway on which that accident occurred in his role as a police officer many years before,” Rodgers wrote.
But Lancia now asks that the ruling be stayed, arguing that the decision relied on information about Raynes’ tenure and assignments that were not part of the record in the case.
Lancia, through his lawyer Joseph Voccola, cites Superior Court rules that specify that a judge may not investigate facts in a matter independently and shall only consider evidence presented in the case.
The state, which has not yet responded to Lancia’s most recent motion, had previously argued that there was no conflict because Raynes was not a member of the state police at the time of the raid. Prosecutors Joseph J. McBurney and Katelyn Revens dismissed Lancia’s arguments as “clearly just a ploy to create the appearance of a conflict.”
Lancia argues, too, that he plans to challenge the validity of the search warrants supporting the raid, which he asserts relied on false statements and omissions by Trooper Michael Reynolds III. Raynes worked with Reynolds father, Michael Reynolds, in the Lincoln barracks, and was his subordinate in the Wickford barracks, he said.
Another issue Lancia says he intends to raise is the propriety of “prolonged warrantless” state police surveillance of Messer Street, namely a pole camera set up 15 years ago, while Raynes was on the force.
Lancia faults the state police for ramming into the clubhouse with a tank-like vehicle and storming the building with machine guns and flash bang grenades based on misleading information hours after he had turned himself in.
“As such, the Court will be called upon to rule upon the propriety, conduct or results of a Rhode Island State police investigation,” Voccola wrote.
Voccola faults the court for issuing the ruling prematurely, before he had developed further arguments and without conducting a remote hearing during the pandemic.
Even the “appearance of impropriety” as established by U.S. Supreme Court precedent undermines the administration of justice and public confidence in the courts, Voccola wrote.
Judge Rodgers declined comment through the spokesman for the courts.
Lancia, of 40 Fanning Lane, Greenville, was arrested in June as part of an investigation into reports of shots fired near the West Side clubhouse.
Authorities say Lancia fired a shot at a Richard Starnino as he drove his truck by the club, striking the car but not injuring anyone.
A grand jury later indicted Lancia on charges of assault with intent to murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence, and carrying a pistol without a permit, the state police said.
Also indicted was Imor, on charges of possession of methamphetamine, compounding and concealing a felony, and misprision of a felony, meaning he is accused of failing to inform authorities that a felony has occurred.