‘Respect is the entire code’
For members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, one thing stands above all else: The club and its colors.
“They are willing to kill and be killed for those patches and those colors,” Deputy Nathan Brehm testified Wednesday, the fifth day of the trial of the former president of the Carson City chapter of the Vagos Motorcycle Club.
Brehm, a member of the tri-county gang task force, was the officer who arrested defendant Patrick Ouellette, 30, of Reno. Ouellette is charged with six felonies – first- and second-degree kidnapping with a deadly weapon, assault and battery with a deadly weapon, extortion, all with gang enhancements; and battery by strangulation – in a case that stemmed from alleged disrespect toward him, his club and a woman he was reportedly romantically involved with at the time, Tara Schulz. If convicted on all counts, Ouellette could effectively be sentenced to life in prison.
According to Brehm’s testimony, to disrespect a motorcycle club and have a club member hear of it was to expect a “serious beatdown, at minimum, and all the way, but not limited to, murder.”
Ouellette is accused of kidnapping Cody McChesney, 32, of Carson City, and beating him nearly to death in September 2011 before parading him around to local drug dealers to show what happens if they mess with the club.
According to testimony, McChesney loaned $200 to Schulz so she could buy drugs. McChesney, an admitted methamphetamine addict who says he’s been clean since June, testified that when he tried to get his money back, Schulz told him he had been “burned by the Vagos.” McChesney testified that he cursed at Ouellette when they spoke on the phone after Ouellette demanded money from him to repay disrespect – known as “taxing,” according to gang experts who testified Monday.
Schulz’s version of events has her wanting money back from McChesney for a debt owed by someone to whom he had introduced her. She testified that McChesney had threatened her, which he denied in court. He did testify to having screamed at her. Schulz said she was a “Vagos Old Lady,” effectively an extension of the club though not a full member, according to experts.
“Respect is the entire code; it’s the entire fabric, and it’s everything they stand for,” Brehm said.
Members who are disrespected or who see someone disrespect their club – which can be as simple as touching the patch on the back of their vests, such as by patting them on the back – are expected to “take care of business” immediately, Washoe County criminal investigator Peter Grimm testified.
Harlan Hendry, a former Vago, testified as an accomplice to the incident and received immunity for his testimony. He described respect as “very important” to Vagos and the cause of bar fights between members and non-members.
Ouellette, Hendry testified, “thrived on respect.”
To be disrespected and ignore it, or to fail to respond in a sufficiently aggressive manner, would make a Vagos member look like a “punk” – the lowest of the low, in outlaw biker culture, Grimm testified. Grimm said it would be grounds for expulsion from the gang.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Jesse Kalter asked whether his client’s attempts to help McChesney get the money back from Schulz, despite prior disrespect, would make Ouellette a punk.
“Yes, it would,” Grimm responded.
McChesney testified that between the time he hung up on Ouellette when the “tax” was being demanded, and the alleged abduction, Ouellette’s disposition had “flipped” into one of calmness and wanting to mediate the dispute with Schulz.
Hendry testified that Ouellette had heard that McChesney had been disrespecting the gang after that attempt at mediation.
“(Ouellette) wasn’t going to be disrespected like this twice in one day,” Hendry testified.
Grimm testified that if Ouellette then beat McChesney up after two insults, it would repair Ouellette’s reputation among the gang as one who meets disrespect with force.
A crime scene analyst with the Carson City Sheriff’s Office testified to finding evidence – blood on the floor and door of the garage where Ouellette allegedly took McChesney to resume beating him and where Hendry allegedly took a blowtorch to McChesney’s legs.
Dean Higman, the analyst, testified to also finding evidence of blood on some of the tools inside the garage and in Ouellette’s car. McChesney testified he was in Ouellette’s car when Ouellette pistol-whipped him, carving a gash on his head that has since been disputed.
Only blood samples from the car were sent to the lab, according to testimony, which came back as being a positive match for McChesney, while other blood samples found there came from another unknown male.
Kalter didn’t deny in his opening statements that Ouellette had cut McChesney’s head – but, he argued, that cut was the result of Ouellette’s rings during a retributive punch after McChesney punched him for not helping enough to resolve the dispute over the money.