A video posted on YouTube last week shows members of the Jus Brothers motorcycle club criticizing a police sergeant who photographed the license plates on their parked motorcycles.
The motorcycle club members in the video, which had more than 14,700 views on Wednesday morning, say they were doing nothing wrong when the Sonora police sergeant started harassing them. They say police unlawfully profiled the club members as a motorcycle gang.
"Taking pictures of their license plates for no reason," said Nate Smith, who shot the video and posted it on YouTube. "We get this kind of hassle from Sonora PD all the time."
Smith is a member of the club's Mother Lode chapter and a Tuolumne County resident.
The Sonora Police Department on Tuesday issued a news release, responding to the allegations of profiling local bikers. Department officials wanted to remind the public that just because an online video gets a large number of views doesn't mean the allegations have any validity.
"The police sergeant in the video was simply engaging in intelligence gathering on a public street," according to the police news release. "These actions do not fall under the category of profiling as it is defined in California, and there were no detentions made during this contact."
Smith said Jus Brothers members from its Mother Lode and Stanislaus County chapters were waiting for a club event to begin at the nearby Intake Grill restaurant and sports bar. He said the monthly event is geared toward sharing information about motorcycle legislation and is open to the public.
"I'm a business owner, an IT consulting company," Smith said Wednesday during an interview with The Bee. "We're not a bunch of thugs or criminals. But the video shows our frustration; we were at our breaking point."
The Jus Brothers Mother Lode chapter was started a few years ago, and Smith said they do frequent the downtown Sonora area. He said their confrontations with Sonora police began several months ago.
"It's happened several times," Smith told The Bee. "I think they're just trying to keep us out of downtown. They come around taking pictures of our bikes, nitpicking to see what they can find."
Sonora police Sgt. Glenn Roberts said the incident captured in the video occurred about 7:30 p.m. on May 8 in the 100 block of South Washington Street in downtown Sonora. Roberts was not the sergeant in the video.
Roberts said the Sonora Police sergeant was conducting ongoing intelligence gathering, but he declined to discuss the police operation any further. He said the Jus Brothers claims of profiling are false.
"We treat all citizens equal. We don't target one group or the other," Roberts said Wednesday. "We were just doing our basic police work. I can't say anything more than that."
The club members in the video tell the police sergeant that they plan on posting the video online with the department's phone number, so callers can tell officials what they think of it.
"That way America can see what it's like to live in a police state," Smith told the police sergeant in the video.
The police sergeant responds to the Jus Brothers members that it's a public street, there has to be proof that the parked motorcycles are registered, and that he's just doing his job.
"We have an obligation to remain vigilant to all circumstances that may affect the safety and well-being of our community," police officials said in the news release.
Another Jus Brothers member in the video asks the sergeant if police will do the same to the other vehicles parked along the street. The sergeant seems to indicate they're only doing this to "outlaw motorcycle gangs."
Roberts said he could not comment on what the sergeant said in the video or what the Jus Brothers members might have done earlier that day to raise suspicions of police. He did say the Jus Brothers motorcycle club is allied with a group known to law enforcement as an outlaw motorcycle gang.
The FBI identifies outlaw motorcycle gangs in its 2015 National Gang Report as a group that's involved in a pattern of criminal conduct, in which members are required to possess and operate a motorcycle to maintain membership.
Smith said that police allegations that Jus Brothers associates with motorcycle gangs is false.
"The Jus Brothers clubs is autonomous," Smith told The Bee. "It's an individual motorcycle club, and we're not a representation of any other club."
Jus Brothers was founded in 1990 with chapters throughout Northern California, including Stanislaus County, Stockton, Tracy and San Jose. The Stanislaus group on its Facebook page asked other bikers to call Sonora police and tell them profiling will not be tolerated.
Sonora police officials said they will not be dissuaded and will continue to do their work with professionalism and fairness.
"The act of encouraging callers across the nation to flood our call center and post negative comments on our social media is what we believe to be a tactic intended to discourage our community safety efforts," police said in the news release.
Officials attached to the police news release an online link to the YouTube video. The Police Department cautioned its Facebook audience that the video contained profanity and threats of physical harm to the police sergeant and an officer involved in last week's confrontation.
In the video, the Jus Brothers members tell the police sergeant a recently approved state law makes police profiling motorcycle clubs unlawful. But the bill the members are speaking of, state Assembly Bill 2972, has not been enacted.
The bill, if approved, would prohibit peace officers from engaging in “motorcycle profiling.” Police would not be allowed to consider a person riding a motorcycle or wearing motorcycle or motorcycle club-related clothing as a factor in enforcement decisions.
AB 2972 was introduced on Feb. 16 by state Assemblymember Anna Caballero (D-Salinas). The bill passed in an April 10 Public Safety Committee with a vote of 5-2, but it failed in an April 19 Assembly Floor vote of 28-21.