Prosecutors are considering criminal charges against four members of the Iron Brotherhood motorcycle club for their roles in a Christmastime bar brawl in Prescott, Ariz., that sent one man to the hospital.
Their nicknames are Tarzan, Mongo, Guido and Top Gun. They rode Harley Davidson motorcycles, wore vests decorated with skulls and some allegedly carried knives and brass knuckles.
Moctezuma’s Bar in Prescott, Ariz., where a brawl took place last December involving members of the Iron Brotherhood Motorcycle Club.
And their day jobs were police chief, county sheriff’s sergeant, police officer and paramedic.
An increasing number of police officers are forming motorcycle clubs, and hundreds now exist nationwide, according to experts on motorcycle gangs. Gang investigators fear that such clubs, some of which have the trappings of outlaw biker groups, can hurt the credibility of law enforcement and undermine criminal cases brought against traditional gangs.
“In the last 15 years I would say that we’ve probably seen a tenfold increase in these clubs,” said Terry Katz, vice president of the International Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association, who works for the Maryland State Police. “The first ones were pretty straightforward—they were family-oriented clubs. What we see now as a trend is biker by night and cop by day.”
Bikers Gather for ‘Mountain Thunder’
The popularity of law-enforcement motorcycle clubs has increased in recent years, and members say that concerns are overblown that the clubs can hurt the credibility of law enforcement.
Members of law-enforcement motorcycle clubs were among the many bikers who attended the Ozark Mountain Thunder Rally, which was held last month in Branson, Mo., in conjunction with the National Safety Forces Rally. Bikers listened to live bands, watched a motorcycle stunt show, enjoyed a tattoo contest and went on rides together.
David Walter Banks for The Wall Street Journal
Anna Alkire, in red, Matt Staples of the Guns of Justice law enforcement motorcycle club, and Jody Kosterlitz, in white, posed as Kenny Stults snapped a portrait at the Classy Shots booth.
The growth of such groups worries some law-enforcement officials because of the rowdy and violent behavior that sometimes goes on. In South Dakota, for instance, prosecutors charged a Seattle police detective who was a member of a group called the Iron Pigs with shooting and injuring a Hells Angels biker in a 2008 brawl between the clubs. The charges were later dropped. This year, the police chief in Melrose Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb, disbanded a police motorcycle club called the Reapers whose members had allegedly been in a bar fight.
“If this is not addressed, you’re going to continue to have these issues like you have in Arizona,” said David “Vito” Bertocchini, a retired detective who investigated motorcycle gangs in California. “If these guys were dressing as street-gang members and they had red rags hanging out their pockets, would this be tolerated? Absolutely not.”
In the courts, defense attorneys seek to torpedo charges against alleged gang members by arguing they are no different than police motorcycle clubs. Jorge Gil-Blanco, a retired San Jose police officer and expert witness, said the issue “muddies the water for juries.” He adds, “I shouldn’t have to sit there and justify this type of behavior.”
Members of police clubs say the concern is overblown. The Blue Knights, a law-enforcement club with more than 20,000 members around the world, was formed to raise money for charities and ride bikes with fellow officers and families, said D.J. Alvarez, international vice president. “We try to maintain a positive appearance,” he said. “We promote motorcycle safety, we involve families and we’re not discriminative,” he added.
The national board of directors for the Iron Brotherhood didn’t respond to requests for comment, but on its website appeared to distance itself from the Arizona bar fight, denouncing “any behavior by its members that would reflect negatively on our club or our profession as law-enforcement officers.” The board said what was known as the Whiskey Row Chapter in Prescott no longer exists.
The fight broke out Dec. 22 last year at Moctezuma’s Bar in Prescott, where members of the Iron Brotherhood had gathered for their Christmas party. A patron approached Bill “Tarzan” Fessler, president of the Iron Brotherhood chapter and the police chief of neighboring Prescott Valley, and either grabbed his vest or asked about the club’s patch, according to witness accounts in a report released by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. A melee ensued and a security guard observed an Iron Brotherhood member “pounding” someone’s face, the report said. Investigators concluded that the man, who was treated for a possible broken nose, and another patron were hit.
State investigators recommended assault charges against two Iron Brotherhood members, obstruction-of-justice charges against Mr. Fessler and another member of the club, and disorderly conduct charges against the patron. A spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said prosecutors were reviewing the recommendations, but have yet to decide on filing criminal charges.
Arizona Department of Public Safety
Security-camera footage shows the altercation during a Christmas party.
The men have denied the allegations. Mr. Fessler called them “absolutely absurd.”
“I still don’t know to this day who hit who,” Mr. Fessler said. “This whole thing is a witch hunt for police officers belonging to motorcycle clubs that wear a three-piece patch”—a patch sometimes associated with outlaw biker gangs. Mr. Fessler,who retired from the Prescott Valley Police Department in March, said he joined a police club to avoid hanging out with the “wrong crowd” at some biker events. The Iron Brotherhood’s activities consisted of weekend rides and get-togethers with families, he said.
The Yavapai County Sheriff’s personnel board recently recommended terminating three employees who were members of the club. “I know the badge has been tarnished, and we will work relentlessly to regain the community’s full trust and confidence,” said Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher.
The Hells Angels—which has been labeled a dangerous criminal organization by federal authorities, though its members dispute the characterization—also weighed in on the incident. The local chapter expressed its disapproval to a local news site and challenged the Iron Brotherhood to a boxing match. The Brotherhood didn’t take up the offer.
“[The boxing challenge] was really kind of to stand up to these guys,” said Michael Koepke, vice president of the Yavapai County Hells Angels chapter, who last year had charges stemming from a 2010 shootout dismissed. “They give a bad name to motorcycle clubs.”