Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Outlaws MC still seeks return of Leather Vests

 The vests worn by the Outlaws MC will be held as contraband, a McHenry County judge ruled
 Photo: McHenry County Sheriff's Office

CHICAGO, ILL 1/26/2016
The Outlaws Motorcycle Club has not backed down in its effort to get authorities to return leather vests and patches that were seized after a 2012 bar fight. After failing to persuade a McHenry County judge last year to return the gear, club lawyer Joel Rabb argued his case Tuesday in front of the 2nd District Appellate Court in Elgin.

McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather had ruled that vests were "contraband" that were used "to facilitate street gang activity." People affiliated with the Outlaws — which Rabb has said is a civic organization, not a gang — wore the vests when they instigated a brutal attack on patrons at the Lizard Lounge outside Wonder Lake, leading to charges against several members.

Four members who were arrested later pleaded guilty to various charges and, as part of their plea deals, forfeited their motorcycle vests. Rabb said one of the vests was returned, which he said shows rightful ownership and should prompt the return of the other three.

He said it's the club patches on the vests, rather than the vests themselves, that members most want back. He argued that the patches were wrongly seized because they belong to the club, not the individual members, and that a piece of clothing cannot be compared to guns or cars that can be confiscated if used to facilitate crime.

Photo: McHenry County Sheriff's Office

When witnesses and victims testified about the bar fight, "nobody stated they felt uncomfortable because of the leather patches," Rabb said. Appellate Judge Michael Burke pointed out that the gang is known to "have a reputation" for criminal activity.

Rabb said members of the club, also known as the American Outlaw Association, are a "microcosm" of all types of people.

"There is good, there is bad, there is ugly," he said, adding that the club's reputation has been skewed by reality TV and the movies.

"Each member stands alone," he said. "Simply being a member of the Outlaws is not a crime."

Judge Mary Seminara-Schostok asked why the return of the patches was so important.

Rabb said they convey "a certain level of pride" for Outlaw members and contended that confiscating them is a violation of free speech rights.

"Wearing the vest in and of itself is not a crime," he said. "What role did the vests play in facilitating gang activity? It's a far stretch to say the vests substantiate criminal activity." He maintained that "gang activity was never established in the forfeiture hearing."

But McHenry County Assistant State's Attorney Jana Blake Dickson said experts previously testified that members wore the patches "to bolster" the gang's presence in the bar and "to intimidate" people when they entered. When Burke asked about the state's interest in the patches, Dickson replied: "I imagine (it's) getting the patches off the street and making it harder to use (the patches) as a threat."

Rabb said the club mass-produces the patches and any member can wear them, so confiscating the ones in question does nothing to get other patches off the street.

No ruling was announced Tuesday.

 Source: Chicago Tribune