Riverside County settles bikers' defamation lawsuit
Riverside County has settled a defamation lawsuit filed by the Vagos Motorcycle club by admitting that statements that linked the group to attacks against Hemet police officers were "unfortunate" and inaccurate.
The lawsuit filed by the Vagos in March alleged that statements made by former Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco and other officials described the group as "cockroaches" and "terrorists" who "practice an extreme brand of violence."
The comments were made after a March 2010 law enforcement action that targeted nearly three dozen alleged Vagos members during an investigation of attacks that included torching four Hemet code-enforcement trucks and setting up a zip-gun booby trap that fired a bullet at an officer when he opened a security gate.
In an interview with The Times on the day of the arrests, Pacheco said the operation was "just the beginning" of continued law enforcement actions against the club.
"They represent an extreme threat to law enforcement," Pacheco said at the time. "The goal is to eliminate this threat."
In a statement released Monday by Riverside County, officials said law enforcement authorities are "reasonably satisfied, at this time, that the Vagos International Motorcycle Club was not involved in the 2010 attacks on law enforcement officers."
"Any emotionally charged or colorful remarks make by, or at the direction of, the former district attorney, Rod Pacheco, during the heat of the investigation which were expressly or impliedly offensive to the Vagos are unfortunate," the statement said.
Two Riverside County men have been charged in connection with some of the attacks. Neither is affiliated with the Vagos, according to the statement.
Beverly Hills attorney Joseph Yanny, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Vagos, said Monday that the club had been unfairly tarnished by the remarks and was pleased with the settlement.
"The statement clears this club and its members from any wrongdoing in the matters that went down in Hemet and should allow them to get on with their lives and their rights to associate and ride together without being harassed," Yanny told The Times. "This was never about money. What was important was that the club clear its name and take this shadow off them."
Pacheco was not immediately available for comment.
— Robert J. Lopez (Twitter: @LAJourno)
Photo: Vagos motorcycle club member Sean McCluskey, left, signs autographs for children at the Fred Jordan Mission's Harley Christmas Ride for Hope on Skid Row in December. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times