December 10, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Police moved to publicly seize a high-ranking Hells Angel's slick-looking Harley-Davidson from a motorcycle show hours after he was nabbed at the airport on his way out of Winnipeg, an expert in outlaw biker gangs testified Wednesday.
Dale Sweeney, the reputed president of the Manitoba Hells Angels, was taken into custody in connection with a major drug investigation called Project Flatlined early on March 16, 2012.
Within hours of his arrest, an off-duty officer emailed Const. Nick Leone pictures of a 170-horsepower racing Harley featuring a Hells Angels "dead head" decal on display at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Another officer, Const. Jeff Norman, was then tasked with getting a warrant to seize the bike, Leone testified Wednesday.
Also on display next to the vehicle was a sign advertising an automotive business owned by Sweeney, Leone said, and a placard containing the words "Sweeney Inc. Racing."
"There was no doubt in my mind… that motorcycle was the property of Dale Sweeney," Leone said. "Only a full-patch member can operate a vehicle with the Hells Angels emblem on it."
Leone's testimony came at the trial of Robert Sefton Gray, 66, who has pleaded not guilty to obstructing and assaulting Norman after police turned up to seize what police believe was Sweeney's bike.
Gray is the long-time organizer of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle show at the annual World of Wheels showcase. He is contesting the information police used to obtain the warrant to make the seizure and denies the assault and obstruction charges.
He asserts there's no evidence showing the motorcycle actually belonged to Sweeney.
Leone disagreed, saying the "totality" of the entire situation — including the photographs and his years of experience examining how outlaw bikers operate — proved otherwise to him.
The application to display the bike at Gray's show was not filled out by Sweeney, and claim to ownership of the motorcycle is currently being contested in another court proceeding, court heard. Leone said he has since learned the 2006 Harley-Davidson Destroyer was imported from West Virginia by another man now fighting to claim it as his.
Gray, who is representing himself, testified on his own behalf Wednesday. The long-time motorcycle enthusiast said he watched as at least six police officers suddenly marched into the show to seize the motorcycle. He approached Norman to ask to see the warrant, but was refused.
Gray maintains as the show's organizer he had the right to see the document. The Harley was under his "care and control," Gray said, and he had the responsibility to ensure police were seizing the correct property.
He said after exchanging words with Norman, he unintentionally touched him and was quickly arrested in front of a crowd of hundreds of gawking onlookers. "He had those cuffs on me so fast I was startled," Gray testified. From his perspective, Norman appeared "out of control" and yelled "you're going to jail" multiple times. Norman denied this in his testimony.
"This whole ordeal has been very traumatic to me and my family," Gray told Judge Wanda Garreck. "Anybody I've talked to can't believe this has gone to trial," he said.