South Lake Tahoe firefighter Sues for Alleged Gang affiliation firing
WATSONVILLE >> A 24-year-old Watsonville man is suing Santa Cruz County law enforcement agencies after he was pulled over on his motorcycle and later lost his job because a deputy called his employer.
Kristopher Klay was riding his motorcycle on Highway 1 near Watsonville in May 2013 when he was stopped by members of the Santa Cruz County Gang Task Force. A South Lake Tahoe firefighter at the time, Klay was wearing a "cut," or leather vest with a patch of the Guerillas Motorcycle Club — a group that rides together and raises money for youth organizations.
Deputies who pulled him over and stopped another rider who was riding with him on a second motorcycle. Authorities asked Klay for his registration, which was current, and Klay and the other rider were let go without being ticketed or arrested.
Four weeks later, about May 30, 2013, Sgt. Stefan Fish of the task force called Klay's boss at South Lake Tahoe Fire and told him about the traffic stop, according to court documents.
It's not clear exactly what was said in the phone call, but a few days later, Klay was called in to meet with his fire chief. He was then fired from his job, which was as a probationary firefighter because he recently started.
The police report said Klay was a member of a motorcycle gang, and the fire chief used the police report as the basis for his termination, said Klay's attorney, Elisa Stewart of the San Francisco law firm Stewart & Musell, LLP.
Now, Klay is suing the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office, Watsonville police and Fish, which all participate in the Gang Task Force.
"He's trying to salvage what's left of his reputation," Stewart said of Klay.
"Despite not being arrested, cited or charged with any offense, the law enforcement officers stated in their police report that plaintiff (Klay) was a member of a motorcycle gang and that the detention involved 'gang activity,'" Klay's attorneys wrote.
The complaint also states that the sergeant's call to Klay's employer violated labor law because he was not convicted of a crime. Klay's attorney alleges that Klay was profiled unfairly as a gang member in the stop and the suit asks for an unspecified sum.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Guerillas Motorcycle Club say the club is a charitable group whose members include paramedics, emergency medical technicians, firefighters and hospital workers.
Jesse Ullian, president and founder of the Santa Cruz club, said the group is not a gang, but just a group of people who ride motorcycles together.
"There's a misconception about motorcycle clubs. It's outrageous. Too many people are watching 'Sons of Anarchy,'" Ullian said, referring to the TV drama about an outlaw motorcycle gang.
"The fact that he (the sergeant) would go out of his way to try and ruin a young life like that is unethical, immoral and it's wrong."
An attorney for the Sheriff's Office and Santa Cruz County, Jason Heath, said this spring he planned to "vigorously defend the case," but he declined to comment on specific allegations because the case remains in court.
Motorcycle riders and their attorneys said the task force should do more to differentiate motorcycle clubs from motorcycle gangs when they ride through Santa Cruz County.
Ullian, a 48-year-old who worked at the Dominican Hospital emergency room until recently, said Guerillas Motorcycle Club's roughly 15 members raise money for youth organizations.
Other members are first responders, have families and essentially ride motorcycles together for fun.
"We're such a target right now. We get pulled over all the time," Ullian said....
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