Oregon - Twenty-three motorcyclists who were stopped and detained by Gresham police two years ago will share a $300,000 out-of-court settlement, city officials said.
The settlement is the result of a federal lawsuit filed against the city and two officers last October by members of the Gypsy Joker Motorcycle Club and other participants in an annual riding event. They had sought $1.4 million for what they alleged was unreasonable search and seizure, excessive force, negligence and malicious prosecution, said Leonard Berman, the Portland attorney who represented the motorcyclists.
Berman said the city and his clients reached the settlement May 24.
Gresham's city attorney, Susan Bischoff, said the cost of litigating the lawsuit and the potential exposure to the city exceeded the cost of the settlement. The settlement, she said, was not an admission of fault and was covered by the city's insurance.
Mike Kondash, a 38-year-old tattoo artist and 10-year member of the motorcycle club's Salem chapter, said he and his wife, April Kondash, and 21 others were in the middle of an event called the Poker Run on June 7, 2003, when they were stopped by Gresham police and other agencies at Southeast 185th Avenue and Stark Street.
The two Gresham officers named in the suit were Scott Hogan and Rick Blake, both members of the department's gang enforcement team.
In a response to the suit, the officers said the motorcyclists were stopped because they failed to obey traffic signals; blocked cross-streets to allow members to travel through intersections together; and failed to stop for a marked patrol car with its lights flashing and siren sounding.
The group, according to court documents, was also stopped for "belonging to or associating with an organization known to law enforcement to have criminal ties." Court records show that Kondash pleaded guilty in 2001 to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to elude police in Marion County.
Last July, heavily armed teams of police raided Gypsy Joker hangouts in Northeast Portland and Salem looking for two members suspected of three home-invasion robberies between April and December 2003.
Kondash said that on June 7 of that year, group members and other motorcyclists were riding to five taverns, where they collected a playing card at each location. At the fifth and final stop, participants played their five-card hands of poker to win prizes.
"The first time I saw a cop, they had a roadblock set up," Kondash said. "They said they were stopping us because 15 bikes in the pack ran a red light. When they did stop us, they overdid it hard -- they held us at gunpoint for two hours. It was really out of line."
After citing several of the motorcyclists with traffic violations and charging four others with attempting to elude police, officers let the group leave, Kondash said. All charges were eventually dismissed or overturned, Berman said.
"It appeared they were laying in wait for them," Berman said of the police.
Chief Carla Piluso said the incident was under review by the Gresham Police Department.
"Any time a suit is brought, we need to review what occurred, but not necessarily because we did anything wrong in this case," Piluso said. "We can always improve and learn. . . . And we are close to completing that review."
Kondash said that the incident upset both members and nonmembers and that his wife refuses to ride with him anymore because she's afraid of getting stopped again by police.
"I hope," Kondash said, "that people realize that if we ignore our rights, they will go away."
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