Bikers’ lawsuit against NJ State Police over colors moves forward

A federal judge has allowed a First Amendment and civil rights lawsuit to proceed against several New Jersey State Troopers accused of flouting the constitutional rights of a group of bikers, reports the Cherry Hill Courier Post.

The case, brought in 2010 by three bikers– James Coles, Louis C. Degailler, and Joseph Ballinger– stems from a traffic stop that occurred in July 2009 in which they were pulled over and issued citations while on a ride.  The bikers were wearing motorcycle jackets that bore symbols referencing their membership in certain motorcycle organizations, the symbols are commonly known as “colors.”

Plaintiffs claim that they were stopped and given frivolous citations, all for the ulterior motive of trying to force them to remove their colors. Plaintiffs allege they were ordered to remove their jackets or suffer having a motorcycle towed.

The State Police, on the other hand, claim they stopped the motorcyclists because the bikers were violating a helmet law. The judge’s ruling makes pretty clear, however, that this wasn’t the case. The helmets were never inspected, and the troopers issued a citation under the statute for motorized bicycles, not motorcycles.  Consistent with this, a municipal court subsequently dismissed the helmet charges, finding that the bikers were in compliance with state law.

It doesn’t look good for the troopers in this case. The court notes that there is clear evidence in the video-tape recording (state law requires police to make recordings of all traffic stops) that supports the facts alleged. Specifically, the video supports the bikers’ allegations that the troopers tried to make the bikers turn their jackets inside out, ordered the bikers to remove their jackets and threatened to tow one of the motorcycles if the bikers didn’t comply.

The colors that Plaintiffs were wearing, by the way, were those of the Pagans Motorcycle Club and the Tribe Motorcycle Club. Though not mentioned in the court’s opinion, these motorcycle clubs don’t have the best reputations. (Per Wikipedia, the Pagans have been linked to organized crime, drug lords and white supremacists). So, it may not be too surprising that troopers would target the Pagans. For those same reasons, I could never see myself wearing a Pagans jacket (plus, they don’t let women join their club). But that said, I’ll gladly cheer them on in this case. I certainly don’t want it to be okay for a cop to pull me over just because they don’t like my t-shirt or because I have a giant bat painted on my yoga bag.

Click here to read a copy of the court’s decision.

Tiny top hat tip — Matthew S.
Bonus song:
Sisters of Mercy — Colours

Lyrics at this link

~ by siouxsielaw on April 7, 2012.

One Response to “Bikers’ lawsuit against NJ State Police over colors moves forward”

  1. Interesting. I thought “fuck the draft” case had already established the right for individuals to wear whatever they want on their jackets.

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