Chino Valley gang shootout case dismissed; state intends to re-file
PRESCOTT - Saying the prosecution violated their constitutional rights, a judge on Tuesday dismissed the charges against seven men accused of assault charges in connection with a 2010 shootout between rival motorcycle gangs.
The men - Michael Koepke, John Bernard, Kevin Christiansen, Kiley Hill, Larry Scott Jr., Robert Kittredge and Bruce Schweigert - all allegedly associated with the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club, faced multiple charges in connection with a shootout with the Vagos Motorcycle Club in Chino Valley on Aug. 21, 2010.
Kopeke's lawyer, Richard Gaxiola, filed the motion to dismiss the case, and the others' attorneys joined in, claiming a violation of due process and prosecutorial misconduct.
The motion stems from disclosure by the state that a witness who claimed he saw a confrontation occur between members of the two clubs at a convenience store was actually a paid confidential informant to law enforcement who had once tried the join the Hell's Angels and was turned away, only to become associated with the Vagos.
Gaxiola argued before Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Celé Hancock that the two grand juries who indicted the seven men were never told that Alfred Azevedo was working for GIITEM, the statewide Gang Intelligence Information Team Enforcement Mission task force, that he was paid to inform, and that he had been "rebuffed" in an attempt to join the Hell's Angels.
Azevedo was the only person who ever described a confrontation between the Hell's Angels members and the Vagos, Gaxiola said, quoting interviews with detectives, and if Azevedo's credibility was questioned, then the entire case could be weakened.
James O'Haver, Scott's attorney, said the problem was compounded by the fact that Deputy County Attorney Dana Owens knew about Azevedo's situation in February 2011 but "sat on" the evidence, only telling the defense afterward, when it was too late to be used in court proceedings later that month.
In her decision, Hancock wrote, "To say that the defense was surprised by the status of Azevedo as a paid informant is an understatement," and that there was "obvious prejudice" to the defendants because the grand juries didn't hear that Azevedo was a confidential informant.
The nature of Azevedo's involvement "should have been disclosed at both grand jury proceedings," she said.
Hancock stopped short of accusing Owens of prosecutorial misconduct, instead saying she was "negligent" and that "it is simply unacceptable for the state to fail to disclose material and clearly exculpatory evidence that was in its possession in a timely manner."
She added that, because Owens did not act with "ill will," the charges would be dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could be re-filed.
O'Haver said Tuesday that although "I am gratified that we were able to prevail on the underlying motion, I am disappointed" that Hancock chose to dismiss the case without prejudice, saying that he wished he had been "more thorough" in making the case against Owens.
Gaxiola called the decision "fantastic news" and said, "This judge is very astute and looked at the case in the aggregate" before ruling on the motion.
"She made the right decision," he said.
Chief Deputy County Attorney Dennis McGrane said they would not appeal the ruling, but that they would refile the charges, and that Owens would continue to prosecute the case.
"We'll start back at the beginning," he said.
Gaxiola said he didn't believe that would be successful. "Given the case, at this juncture, I think it's highly unlikely (a grand jury) would return a new indictment."