Ruffin Prevost / Yellowstone Gate file photo
CODY, WYO. — Tourism and business boosters in this Yellowstone National Park gateway town have long worked to convince travelers to spend an extra day in Cody, and to come back a few years later for a repeat visit.
Those efforts may have proven successful with members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, who last gathered here in 2006, and are reported to be planning a return trip this summer.
Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam said he had been told by “a federal agency” that approximately 600 Hells Angels members and their associates may spend 4-5 days in Cody for their U.S. Run in late July or early August.
Rockvam said the event is similar to—but smaller than—the group’s World Run, which drew an estimated 1,300 members and their associates to Cody in July 2006.
That event was peaceful and largely uneventful, with a total of five club members charged in connection with two incidents that resulted primarily in misdemeanor drug convictions.
Hells Angels members have contacted local businesses in recent weeks to inquire about travel arrangements for this summer, Rockvam said, but no representative from the group has been in touch with Cody law enforcement yet.
“But based on the law enforcement intelligence we have now, we’re moving forward and starting our planning,” Rockvam said.
Rockvam said he has met with colleagues at the Wyoming Highway Patrol and the state Division of Criminal Investigation as well as other law enforcement agencies around the state.
He also met with Gov. Matt Mead a few weeks ago to discuss the possibility of receiving state financial assistance in paying for what is sure to be a greatly increased police presence if hundreds of Hells Angels return to Cody.
The state Attorney General’s Office doled out more than $600,000 in state funds to law enforcement agencies and others who prepared for and policed the 2006 gathering.
Many local residents complained about what they described as a heavy-handed approach by law enforcement during the 2006 event. The Wyoming Highway Patrol drew the most public criticism after bikers left town.
An analysis of citations and warnings issued during the 2006 World Run showed that WHP was far more active in writing tickets than the Cody Police Department or Park County Sheriff’s Office.
Figures released by court clerks and local officials in August 2006 show that the Park County Sheriff’s Office issued a total of five World Run citations and two warnings, while the Cody Police Department issued 179 warnings and 59 citations. For Cody Police, that’s 17 more citations than the same 7-day period in 2005
Wyoming Highway Patrol officials never responded to a media request in 2006 seeking citation totals, but court records show that at least 661 additional citations were issued for traffic offenses in Park County during the World Run. That was in areas where only the Sheriff’s Office and Highway Patrol were active. The numbers suggest that the Wyoming Highway Patrol was likely responsible for issuing more than 650 citations during the event.
Besides vehicle patrols, there were also police on hand from across the state and the region, working as part of additional patrol squads, surveillance units and in support roles. They were joined by a host of federal investigators and law enforcement agents from the U.S. Marshals Service, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies.
Dozens of soldiers from the Wyoming Army and Air National Guard were in town—wearing camouflage and toting combat rifles—to control access to police outposts. There was even a Black Hawk helicopter operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security patrolling night skies in what officials described as a “logistics and support” role.
Rival biker gangs
Rockvam said the heavy 2006 police presence was meant to prevent problems from arising, especially between rival motorcycle groups engaged in long-running and violent feuds with the Hells Angels.
Local motorists were detained, warned or cited for relatively minor traffic infractions because police had to treat visiting bikers and others equally during the event, Rockvam said.
“We heard those complaints loud and clear from the last time,” he said. “We’re definitely going to take that into consideration with regards to our planning.”
Rockvam said that other Hells Angels gatherings have resulted in violent confrontations, including a South Dakota shooting just days after Cody’s World Run where rival bikers clashed with Hells Angels.
“We’re not out there to harass them, but at the same time, we’re not going to allow them to do whatever they want,” he said. “We would not treat them any better or worse than we would treat our local citizens.”
Wyoming Rep. Sam Krone and Sen. Hank Coe met a few days ago with Gov. Matt Mead to follow up on Rockvam’s request for state funding assistance.
Krone, a deputy prosecutor with the Park County Attorney’s Office, was a Cody City Council member eight years ago, and prosecuted those Hells Angels members arrested during the World Run.
“We have to strike an appropriate balance between the additional law enforcement help we would need, while at the same time respecting individual citizens’ rights, their normal activities and not being overzealous in how things are handled,” he said.
Krone said that Mead, who served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Wyoming in 2006, was receptive to the request for additional funds, but shared his concerns about appropriate levels of enforcement.
Gail Nace, owner of the Silver Dollar Bar, said she had an overwhelmingly positive experience in 2006 with Hells Angels members. But she also understood why police were out in force.
“I appreciate their presence, because I don’t think it was necessarily the Hells Angels they were concerned about,” Nace said, referring to authorities’ fears of a violent clash between rival bikers.
“It was unfortunate that some of the locals got caught in the fray for things like speeding two miles over the limit,” Nace said. “But on the whole, the police did their jobs very well.”
Nace said the Hells Angels members who visited her bar were well organized, polite and “didn’t cause any trouble.”
She said none of the bikers have contacted her about being in Cody this summer, “but I have confirmed through reliable sources that there’s going to be an event, and I’m looking forward to it.”
“I’m hoping to see some of the people I made friends with the last time they rode into town,” Nace said.