A recent decision in BC Supreme Court shines some light on how the reputation for violence of the Hells Angels, including the Kelowna chapter, is used in B.C. to intimidate and threaten.
The decision stems from a November 2016 incident in Elkford, B.C., where a group of men belonging to the Archrivals motorcycle club assaulted and threatened a man who they believed had been wearing a Hells Angels vest and patch, despite not belonging to the club.
The Hells Angels have strict rules about only allowing full patch members to wear clothing that bears the name “Hells Angels” or shows the club’s “Death Head” logo.
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On the day a criminal trial was set to begin, the group of six accused struck a plea deal with the Crown and five of them pleaded guilty to assault, possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose and uttering threats, while the charges were stayed against the sixth.
During sentencing submissions, the Crown said a group of eight to 10 men surrounded Ryan Thatcher’s vehicle at an Elkford gas station, opened his vehicle’s door and accused him of wearing a Hells Angels vest and patch, which Thatcher denied. The members of the group were wearing black gloves and held a collapsible baton, brass knuckles, knives and a baseball bat.
The Crown said the the group told Thatcher the Kelowna, Edmonton and Calgary Hells Angels chapters had been given his picture, and they “had his name and were coming after him.”
The Crown said one member of the group said: “Let’s just bust his teeth out right here. Let’s teach – let’s just teach this guy a lesson. You know what this is about. If you don’t give us the vest we’re going to f*** you up.”
Another said: “Rip him out of there. We’ll throw him in the van and do him up there.”
The extent of the incident is not clear, but the Crown said it went on for about 15 minutes, and Thatcher was punched during the exchange. In his notice of civil claim, Thatcher said he was struck repeatedly with fists, feet, batons, baseball bats and other weapons.
Raymond Rutledge was sentenced to 52 days in jail for the incident, while Chris Rolufs, Bradley Navratil, William Lowe and Shawn Mansfield were all given conditional sentence orders, which were served in the community.
In their response to Thatcher’s civil suit, Lowe and Mansfield denied Thatcher was ever assaulted, and they claimed the group had approached Thatcher to invite him out for a beer after thinking he was also part of a motorcycle club. They claimed they pleaded guilty to the criminal charges to avoid the high cost of legal fees, after learning they would probably be only facing house arrest.
But in the recent civil decision, Justice Leonard Marchand ruled that because of their convictions, Lowe’s and Mansfield’s liability for the assault, battery and false imprisonment of Thatcher in the civil matter is assumed. A later trial will determine how much damages Thatcher is owed.
“The court will presumably also consider Mr. Lowe and Mr. Mansfield’s convictions against their evidence that they were just a couple of friendly motorcycle enthusiasts who happened to be with black glove-wearing, weapon-toting pals when they crossed paths with Mr. Thatcher,” Justice Marchand said.
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Despite many serious criminal convictions against B.C. Hells Angels members, no B.C. court has ever declared the motorcycle club a criminal organization.
In its long-running, but failed attempt to seize Hells Angels clubhouses in Kelowna, East Vancouver and Nanaimo, the BC government alleged the club “enables and empowers” its members to engage in criminal behaviour and closely protects the use of their logo and imagery “to ensure that only its members benefit from its reputation for violence.”
While Justice Barry Davies acknowledged the club has “has a reputation for violence and intimidation,” he said the the government did not prove that the club is a worldwide criminal organization.