Biker jacket to cost $104,000
Carson City and the state may pay $104,000 to settle damages claimed in connection with a civil-rights lawsuit filed by motorcycle club members who were stopped from entering the city’s courthouse because of what they were wearing.
Federal courts have found the district court violated the bikers’ first amendment rights, some of whom were wearing swastikas on their jackets, by enforcing unconstitutional court rules. Two club members were arrested in 2001 after refusing to remove their jackets or leave the courthouse.
The city and state are now preparing to settle damages in the case in light of the court’s August ruling.
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.
Courthouse rules at the time prohibited clothing with symbols, markings or words indicating an affiliation with street gangs, biker or similar organizations. The clothing “can be extremely disruptive and intimidating, especially when members of different groups are in the building at the same time,” the court says in its Courthouse Rules of Conduct and Attire.
U.S. District Court of Nevada found the rule prohibiting biker club clothing was unconstitutional – as were 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.
Carson Deputy District Attorney Melanie Bruketta said it is in the city’s best interest to settle damages before the case goes to court.
If a judgment is made against the city, the city may be required to pay damages to each plaintiff and cover rising attorney fees and costs, which already total more than $89,000.
“Since the rules have been found to be unconstitutional, there is a high likelihood of plaintiffs prevailing on their complaint for damages,” Bruketta said.
Plaintiffs Steven Dominguez and Scot Banks first tried to enter the court building March 6, 2001, after being summoned on a speeding ticket. Tmhe two were wearing jackets with swastikas and were members of the Branded Few motorcycle club.
The two refused to remove their jackets or leave the building, as asked by a Carson sheriff’s deputy. They were arrested for criminal trespass and taken to Carson City Jail.
One month later, several state bikers association members accompanied the two, for the arraignment. Eleven were cited for trespassing when they refused to either remove jackets or vests bearing emblems of motorcycle clubs or leave the complex. They were denied entrance again April 9.
The lawsuit was first denied, but Evans appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an order reversing the district court’s decision and sending it back for a judgment.
The U.S. District Court issued a final summary judgment and permanent injunction, prohibiting the Carson City courthouse from enforcing the clothing rules.
As the son of a war bride whose house was bombed by Nazis in England, Evans said he is not insensitive to what the swastika means to people but feels the federal ruling was important from a civil rights standpoint.
“It’s been a huge case for me personally,” Evans said. “It’s something I think is very important. I was able to do what I believe in, so it’s been real gratifying from a personal and professional sense.”
The state’s Attorney General’s Office plans to settle the case for $49,000. Carson City supervisors will decide Thursday whether to approve a $55,000 cash settlement. Of the total amount, $90,000 will pay for Evan’s attorney fees. Each plaintiff will receive $1,000 or more, Evans said.
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.
Carson district court will still be allowed to prohibit words, pictures or symbols designed or reasonably likely to influence a decision in any case, like wearing T-shirts, and weapons or items used as weapons that compromise the security of the courtroom.