Suspects in Road Dog case in court

Four defendants, including a sheriff's captain, released after pleading not guilty

July 17, 2008 

FRESNO -- Ten men indicted on charges related to a federal investigation into suspected illegal dealings at a Denair motorcycle shop appeared in a Fresno courtroom Wednesday.

Four were allowed to go home after entering not guilty pleas. The rest will return Friday to see whether they will remain in custody pending trial. The indictments were filed last week but sealed until Tuesday.

The men filed into court, one in a wheelchair, about 2:20 p.m. Wednesday. They wore red jumpsuits and handcuffs. Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department Capt. Raul DeLeon smiled warmly and winked at his wife and daughter in the gallery.

An 11th defendant appeared in another court.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Gary S. Austin said little to the defendants beyond making sure they understood their rights. But he did take a moment to note the case's unique circumstances.

"It's a sad day when current and former law enforcement officers appear before this court," he said. "But it's important to remember that at this stage these are simply allegations and that the constitutional presumption of innocence does apply."

Eight of the defendants, except Robert C. Holloway and his son, Brent F. Holloway, entered not guilty pleas.

Attorney Roger K. Vehrs of Fresno said he will enter not guilty pleas for all charges against Robert Holloway. Vehrs represented both Holloways on Wednesday. But, he said, the family will hire an attorney for Brent Holloway. Pleas for both men likely will be entered Friday when the other attorney is present.

Also appearing were two men connected to outlaw motorcycle clubs and Joseph Tyler, a retired California Highway Patrol officer from Merced County. These men face a variety of charges related to allegations of crimes at Road Dog Cycle.

Two other men, not mentioned in Tuesday's Modesto news conference about the indictments, appeared in court. Both were charged with being felons in possession of a firearm. Further information was not available.

Seven of the men -- the Holloways, the two connected to motorcycle clubs, Tyler and the two other men -- are to return to court Friday at 1:30 p.m.

DeLeon, David A. Swanson, a former Stanislaus sheriff's deputy who was a court bailiff, and Stephen Johnson also appeared in court Wednesday. Authorities said Johnson trains dogs for law enforcement agencies and military clients in California and Oregon.

These men face charges of making false statements during the Road Dog Cycle investigation. Johnson also is accused of lying to a grand jury in June. They were released to family members pending their next court appearance, set for Aug. 11 in Fresno before Judge Oliver W. Wanger.

Tyler also was released from custody but will return to court Friday.

Austin said the defendants with law enforcement backgrounds should consider seeking professional help throughout the court process.

"I would suggest, if necessary, that you seek out assistance from a mental health expert to assist you in these matters," he said. "These are going to be some difficult times mentally and legally."

A Gilroy man indicted last week appeared alone in federal court in the Northern District, said prosecutor Laurel Montoya of the U.S. attorney's office. He was taken into custody Tuesday in Santa Clara County; the others were arrested the same day in Stanislaus County.

About 20 family members and supporters of the Holloways, DeLeon, Swanson, Johnson and Tyler filled the gallery. All declined to comment.

But defense attorneys said the families were relieved to have the men home.

"It's been a very traumatic couple of days for all of them," Fresno attorney Carl M. Faller said of Johnson and his family. "He and his family were rather shocked by the arrest yesterday. And they're looking forward to having all the facts come out."

Several attorneys criticized the aggressive way the men were arrested, noting they would have surrendered on their own without the public display.

"I knew this was coming. They showed me the indictment three months ago," said attorney Robert L. Forkner of Modesto, who represents Swanson. "I said, 'I'll bring him down. Just give me a call.' Instead, he got arrested in his boxers at 8:30 in the morning."

Gold River attorney Paul Goyette said he was appalled at the way his client, DeLeon, was arrested. Goyette, who has represented law enforcement officers for 20 years, said he could not recall a client being taken into custody in such an ostentatious way.

Investigators arrived at the DeLeon home early Tuesday and called him from outside to surrender.

"This was a despicable way to treat a fellow law enforcement officer," Goyette said. "I'm trying to think of a case where the investigators and prosecutors haven't called me and arranged for a surrender. They've always done it quietly and efficiently with minimum intrusion into anyone's life. I've done that on homicide cases for an officer.

"With a case like this, to force somebody to spend a night in Fresno County Jail, it's just outrageous."

Attorney Vehrs said he's trying to work through the lengthy indictment. But, he said, his client, Robert Holloway, will be found innocent.

"Maybe something happened, but it certainly isn't quite as bad as it's painted in these papers," he said. "Somebody who has a lot of power and authority decided that my client shouldn't be as happy as he was.

"That's what happened. It's real simple."

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.

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