Biker dress code costs city $55,000
Carson City will settle with a group of bikers who were arrested and cited at the courthouse two years ago for refusing to leave the building after they declined to remove jackets bearing swastikas and biker club patches, agreeing to pay $55,000 for damages.
Federal courts found parts of the courthouse dress code unconstitutional in August and barred the city from enforcing the rules.
“We have flat lost the case.” said Mayor Ray Masayko “It’s time to settle.”
City supervisors met in closed session for nearly an hour Thursday to discuss the settlement. During the discussion, supervisors voiced concern over monitoring the courthouse to ensure the rules now in place are reasonable, Masayko said.
“We will do what we can to follow up on that,” he said.
Attorney Don Evans of Reno filed a civil rights complaint suing the city and the First Judicial District Court, represented by the state Attorney General’s Office, following the arrests and the citing of 11 others in March 2001.
The state plans to settle for $49,000. Of the $104,000 awarded, $90,000 will pay for Evan’s attorney fees. Each plaintiff will receive $1,000 or more, Evans said.
Plaintiffs Steven Dominguez and Scot Banks first tried to enter the court building March 6, 2001, after being summoned on a speeding ticket. The two were wearing jackets with swastikas and were members of the Branded Few motorcycle club.
Courthouse rules at the time prohibited clothing with symbols, markings or words indicating an affiliation with street gangs, biker or similar organizations.
The two were asked by a Carson sheriff’s deputy to remove their jackets or leave the building. They were arrested for criminal trespass and taken to Carson City Jail.
After a round with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last year, the U.S. District Court in Reno issued a final summary judgment finding the courthouse rules violated the First Amendment rights of the bikers and permanently barred the courthouse from enforcing the clothing rules.
The court also found unconstitutional the courthouse rules banning the use of words, pictures or symbols which are degrading or offensive to any ethnic, racial, social or political group and prohibiting words, pictures or symbols with offensive meanings.
In the settlement, the city agrees to also return confiscated clothing to Banks and Dominguez taken during the arrests, dismiss criminal charges and seal criminal records if requested.
The city will use money from its contingency fund to pay for the settlement, Masayko said.
“We certainly don’t have $55,000 in insurance funds to settle this case,” Masayko said. “This is very likely to be the next charge to our quickly dwindling contingency budget.”