Cert. Denied in City of Evanston v. Franklin
Can Any Mean All

Legal Win for Hells Angels

In this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Defendants-Appellants, seven San Jose City Police Officers (“SJPOs”)1 and Deputy Sheriff Linderman, appeal from an order of the district court denying in part their motions for qualified immunity. This action arises out of the simultaneous execution of search warrants at the residences of members of the Hells Angels, and at the Hells Angels clubhouse on January 21, 1998. While executing one of the search warrants at the residence of plaintiffs Lori and Robert Vieira, the officers shot two of the Vieiras’ dogs. While searching plaintiff James Souza’s property, the officers shot and killed one of Souza’s dogs. During the course of the searches at all of the locations, the officers seized literally “truckloads” of personal property for the sole purpose of showing in a murder prosecution that the Hells Angels had common symbols, which in turn would qualify it as a criminal street gang and therefore support a sentencing enhancement under California Penal Code § 186.22 against the defendant in that case. In seizing this “indicia” evidence, the officers seized numerous expensive Harley-Davidson motorcycles, a concrete slab, and a refrigerator door and in so doing, caused significant damage to the items seized as well as to other property.


We affirm the district court’s order denying the SJPOs and Linderman qualified immunity. We hold that Linderman’s instruction to seize “truckloads” of personal property, including numerous motorcycles and a piece of concrete, for the sole purpose of proving that the Hells Angels was a gang was an unreasonable execution of the search warrants in violation of the Fourth Amendment. We further hold that at the time the searches were carried out the law was sufficiently clear to put a reasonable officer on fair notice that this conduct was unlawful.

We also hold that the shooting of the dogs at the Vieira and Souza residences was an unreasonable seizure, and an unreasonable execution of the search warrants, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Exigent circumstances did not exist at either residence, as the SJPOs had a week to consider the options and tactics available for an encounter with the dogs. Nonetheless, the officers failed to develop a realistic plan for incapacitating the dogs other than shooting them. Finally, we hold that the unlawfulness of the officers’ conduct would have been apparent to a reasonable officer at the time the officers planned for serving the search warrants.

San Jose Chater of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club v. City of San Jose, No. 02-16329 (9th Cir. Apr. 4, 2005).

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