Law enforcement officials: Saturation kept Hells Angels gathering quiet in Carlton area
CARLTON - Hells Angels members left Carlton County on Sunday after an uneventful summer rally.
The four-day stay of the motorcycle group resulted in no major problems, no violence and little illegal activity, law enforcement officials said, and they credited their large show of force with helping to keep the peace.
"I'm not aware of any Hells Angels rally before where there was not one significant event," St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman said, noting past rallies have seen stabbings, shootings, fights and other crimes. "We haven't had any of that."
Though many local residents criticized the law enforcement saturation effort, Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said Sunday morning she had fielded only one call from an angry citizen upset with the police presence.
"But I'll field those questions all day long," Lake said. "All of our  calls have been down this weekend. We'll never know exactly what it [increased officers] did prevent."
At least one man who considers himself an expert on the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club said Friday that the Hells Angels' friendliness and generally peaceful demeanor at annual USA Runs are part of a "dog-and-pony show" designed to distract from the organization's record of violence and crime.
"Nothing will happen. Or at least, usually nothing will happen," predicted Julian Sher, an investigative journalist who has studied the Hells Angels since 2000 and wrote "Angels of Death: Inside the Biker Gang's Crime Empire."
"They'll turn around and say ... 'You see, we weren't that bad.' "
But, behind the scenes, Sher argues, many members of the Hells Angels advance a violent agenda and have a history of hundreds of convictions for felonies ranging from making and selling drugs to rape to murder. In 2002, a shootout at a rally in Laughlin, Nev., led to three deaths. In the early 1990s, Sher said, more than 160 people were killed in Canada as part of a turf war involving the Hells Angels.
"They don't advertise all the meth and drug busts that have been associated with the Hells Angels," Sher said. "It's just part of a slick PR campaign."
Law enforcement officials defended their saturation presence with dozens of officers in the area for the past few days saying they firmly believe it kept not only Hells Angels on their best behavior, but the general public as well.
"It was a very, very quiet weekend. Even the number of [auto accident] crashes was down," Litman said. "The presence of law enforcement had a very positive impact."
Lake wouldn't say how many officers were in the area or how many different agencies were involved. She said a detailed list of agencies and the cost of the operation, at least her department's, would be released in coming days.
Because of the group's history of criminal activity, Litman said the threat of violence and "potential danger" when up to 500 Hells Angels members gathered in the area was very real. He said that planning, preparation and "intelligence" gathered from studying past events in other regions allowed officers to know what to expect and how to respond.
"We were trying to carefully consider what's the appropriate response," he said, adding that the show of force was "warranted and appropriate" and the lack of any violence was "proof positive" that the law enforcement effort worked.
On Saturday and early Sunday, officers from all agencies made 210 traffic stops in Carlton and southern St. Louis County. Those stops resulted in 79 citations, only two of which involved Hells Angels members, Lake said. A dozen people not affiliated with Hells Angels were arrested for outstanding warrants, theft, drugs, a probation violation and driving while intoxicated.
Sgt. Mark Baker of the Minnesota State Patrol said that the number of traffic stops in the Duluth-Cloquet-Carlton area was far more than usual for a weekend, but it about matched the stops and citations during other State Patrol saturation events such as the We Fest music festival in Detroit Lakes or a race weekend at Brainerd International Raceway.
State, federal and local law enforcement agencies shut down their Carlton command post Sunday saying the motorcyclists appeared to be moving out, some probably on their way to Sturgis, S.D., for the annual motorcycle rally there.
"I think they're looking for warmer weather," Lake said. She noted temperatures in Sturgis were in the 80s under sunny skies while Hells Angels suffered rain, wind clouds and temperatures in the 50s and 60s for much of their stay here.
There also were no major problems reported in Northwestern Wisconsin, where members of the rival Outlaws group were gathered.