DENAIR -- Federal agents and members of a valley gang task force smashed their way into a motorcycle shop Friday morning, but just what they were looking for remains a mystery.
The search of Road Dog Cycle -- a shop owned by a former Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy who was acquitted of murder charges seven years ago -- began with agents breaking a glass doorway to gain entry.
Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force investigators, wearing latex gloves, searched inside while camouflage-clad, armed FBI agents stood guard outside.
The task force is made up of Stanislaus County law enforcement agencies, along with federal agencies. They moved about a half-dozen motorcycles outside as the investigation got under way, attracting attention from passing motorists and nearby business owners.
When Robert Cliff Holloway arrived at his store at Santa Fe Avenue and Main Street, the search was in full swing. The 60-year-old businessman seemed curious about the investigation, examined the broken door and referred questions to his attorney.
Later, someone left this message on the shop's answering machine: "Thanks for calling Road Dog Cycle. Due to a police presence and an untimely search warrant, we will be closed for a few days. Call back and leave a message. Sorry for any inconvenience."
What the investigators sought remains confidential because a search warrant signed by a federal judge in Sacramento has been sealed, said agent Karen Ernst, an FBI spokeswoman. The investigation included searches Friday at several locations, Ernst said, but has not led to arrests. She would not reveal the other locations.
Ernst declined to comment when asked whether Friday's raid in Denair was linked to another federal investigation involving Stanislaus County sheriff's Capt. Raul De-Leon, 50, who was placed on paid administrative leave in early December. Search warrants in the DeLeon case also are sealed.
Attorney: Law enforcement grudge
Holloway was a deputy for 16 years, but his career was cut short long before DeLeon climbed through the ranks to reach the administrative suite. Holloway retired on a medical disability in 1985 after a drunken driver slammed head-on into his patrol car.
Holloway's wife, Kathryn, worked for the Sheriff's Department from 1980 to 2005, including a stint as a secretary for DeLeon, said deputy Royjindar Singh, a spokesman for the department.
Holloway gained notoriety in July 1997 after he confronted a career criminal who tried to rob his motorcycle shop. Holloway scuffled with the man and clubbed him on the head with his gun. The 9 mm semiautomatic went off and the man was shot in the head. The wound was fatal.
Holloway wasn't arrested ini- tially, but in October 1997 the district attorney's office filed a murder charge. Holloway surrendered to the court two days later and was released after posting a $250,000 cash bond.
A jury in 2001 decided that Holloway was not guilty of murder.
Defense attorney Kirk McAllister, who represented the former deputy and considers him a friend, said Holloway is a well-respected businessman, but raises eyebrows among some members of the law enforcement community who don't like his long hair or association with motorcycle enthusiasts.
"It stuck in the craw of law enforcement that a jury found him innocent of a murder charge that was wrongfully brought against him several years ago," he said.
Merchants in Denair said the store draws a clientele ranging from Hells Angels to Christian bikers, and is known for a wide selection of parts and rare motorcycles.
Dennis and Vicki McWells, owners of Denair Meat Service, rent their building from Holloway and have a high opinion of their landlord, saying he contributes to worthy causes such as fund-raisers for needy people, and draws customers from all over the world, including Australia and Switzerland.
They heard loud sounds -- similar to an explosion -- about 8:15 a.m. Friday. When they walked outside to find out what was going on, an FBI SWAT team member told them to go back inside.
Johnny Lo, owner of the Village Market a few doors down, also heard the noise. He closed his doors for 40 minutes, thinking that some sort of attack must be under way.
"My wife went out and said, 'Oh my gosh, they all have guns.' I locked the door and turned over the closed sign. We had no notice of what was going on," Lo said. "It was kind of scary, really. They didn't let us know what was going on."