California - TEMECULA: Task force targets outlaw biker gang on Interstate 15 ~Authorities say Mongols motorcycle gang is gathering this weekend at La Jolla Indian Reservation~
TEMECULA ---- At least 15 suspected members of the Mongols motorcycle gang were arrested Friday as part of a crackdown on bikers traveling through the area for a nationwide gathering at the La Jolla Indian Reservation, authorities said.
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Sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement officers working as part of a 60-person task force stopped motorcycle riders on Interstate 15 and on side streets throughout the Temecula area on Friday for vehicle code violations, according to Temecula police Chief Jerry Williams.
The largest such stop occurred about 1:45 p.m., when several officers attempted to pull over 14 bikers heading south on I-15 near the San Diego County border, Williams said. After they refused to pull over, they were arrested on suspicion of failing to yield and their bikes were impounded, he added.
Traffic was backed up for miles on southbound I-15 Friday afternoon. Side streets near the freeway in Temecula were clogged as well, with cars trying to escape the freeway congestion and bypass the police action.
Williams said San Diego County Sheriff's Department officials informed Temecula officers on Wednesday that they had learned that members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club were planning a nationwide gathering at the La Jolla Indian Reservation campgrounds this weekend.
The police chief said the event was expected to draw between 300 and 800 people and was believed to be open anyone in the Mongols, a motorcycle group with chapters in California, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Mexico, according to the group's Web site.
The group has been designated an outlaw motorcycle gang by the California attorney general's office and is perhaps best known for a 2002 fight between Mongols and Hells Angels in Laughlin, Nev., in which three bikers died.
On Thursday, Williams said, Temecula officers assembled a 60-member task force composed of Riverside County sheriff's deputies and law enforcement officers from other agencies including the California Highway Patrol, Murrieta Police Department and the U.S. Border Patrol.
"This task force of 60 people were out on the street patrolling with special instructions to keep an eye on the Mongols motorcycle gang for any violations whatsoever," Williams said.
The stops slowed traffic on I-15 to a crawl in both directions for several hours Friday afternoon.
In the incident near the county line, Williams said the motorcyclists refused to pull over until law enforcement officers weaved through traffic, slowing the cars that were in front of the bikers.
Officers were then seen pointing weapons at the bikers and later inspecting their motorcycles on the side of the road.
Around the same time, a second group of bikers was stopped at gunpoint in the center divider of the freeway south of Rancho California Road.
Williams said weapons were drawn because the officers were dealing with an "outlaw motorcycle gang."
Those two stops created major traffic problems, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Ron Thatcher. The agency put five additional cars and a helicopter on duty to stand by, he said.
"All I know is that it screwed up the freeway pretty badly," Thatcher said. "They were stopping them left and right."
Drivers also expressed their frustration with the traffic jam.
Dwight Stinson of San Diego said he has been driving north to Murrieta to pick up his son every other weekend for seven years and never saw traffic so bad. It was worse heading south, he said, estimating that the line of stopped cars extended at least 10 miles.
"I saw a lot of cops that had pulled bikers over for some reason," he said. "I didn't know what to think."
Williams said the traffic stops were necessary to ensure the Mongols did not start trouble in Temecula. He also noted the traffic problem was caused mainly by drivers who slowed down to watch the officers.
"It's part of doing business," he said. "We weren't happy about it either, but we have to do our job."
Williams said Mongols also were stopped throughout the city and an unknown number of them were issued citations or given warnings for violations such as having handlebars too high.
Kyle Cosgrove, a cashier at a Shell station near Temecula Parkway, said the streets around the station were filled with officers and motorcyclists when he got to work at 11 a.m. Four police cars were still parked near the station facing the freeway about 4:30 p.m.
Cosgrove said he saw about 50 motorcyclists during that time, most accompanied by several officers in three police cars. He saw just one arrest, he said, and one stop in which he saw the officers use weapons. In that case, four officers carried "assault rifles," three of which were down at the officers' sides and one of which was pointed at the motorcyclist. It was controlled, he said, but disconcerting nonetheless.
"Everyone kept asking us what was going on," he said. "It was pretty weird, actually, in an alarming way."
Williams estimated about 150 of the Mongols traveled through the area.
Those arrested were taken to a command post in a cordoned-off section of the parking lot at the Community Recreation Center on Rancho Vista Road in Temecula, where scores of officers gathered around a motor home that served as a mobile operations center.
By day's end, one of several large shade structures was covering three rows of folding chairs filled with handcuffed motorcyclists while officers sat at two folding tables processing those who had been arrested.
The men were calm, many of them sitting slumped over to one side or the other, their feet chained and their hands cuffed behind their backs.
One Temecula mother was surprised to see the police when she pulled into the parking lot to pick up her 10-year-old daughter at swim practice.
"I was going to park there and then I saw the police," Sonja Clause said. "It's somewhat shocking."
The task force will remain on the lookout for Mongols this weekend, but the police chief said he doubted there would be more stops on I-15.
"Traffic was going to be an issue anyway," he said, making reference to this weekend's Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival, "and we're going to do our best to keep from compounding that."
Williams said it was necessary to create the task force and crack down on the Mongols because of their reputation for being dangerous, especially in groups.
"We're not dealing with your Sunday motorcycle group that gets together every weekend and rides," he said. "We're taking about an outlaw motorcycle gang. Problems are created when they get together in large groups."
He cited the 2002 incident in Laughlin, in which several Mongols pleaded guilty to various charges in the riot that left three men dead. News reports say that one member of the Mongols pleaded guilty to shooting two Hells Angels members. A member of the Mongols was stabbed to death.
The California attorney general's office in a 2005 report on organized crime counted the Mongols as one of the three most prominent "outlaw motorcycle gangs" in California, along with the Hells Angels and the Vagos. An outlaw motorcycle gang is defined as an organization "whose members utilize their motorcycle gang affiliation as a conduit for criminal enterprises."
"One of the best ways to nip something like that in the bud is to give them a strong show of force; show them there's a lot of police officers here and we're proactive in our enforcement," Williams said. "They tend to not want to hang around an area like that."
In San Diego County, sheriff's deputies are planning to watch the Mongol gathering carefully, according to Lt. Mik
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