The Savage Assassins might look tough. Many are covered in tattoos and wear patches depicting a satanic figure. All drive big Harleys.
But the motorcycle group’s founder, J. Upton, says Fresno deputies are the savage ones.
Upton said deputies crashed a Savage Assassins party last weekend, damaging property and toting off personal belongings in their search for an armed felon. The Savage Assassins said they don’t know the wanted man.
Fresno sheriff’s officials said seven “affiliates of a motorcycle gang” were arrested and 43 were detained early Sunday morning after an hours-long standoff. Of those arrested, only Rey Rodriguez, 31, of Fresno and Stephen Meza, 58, of Tulare were accused of being gang members in possession of firearms.
Upton, 39, said his group and the party’s guests were discriminated against because of their appearance, and they were slandered by being called a “gang.”
So he wants to clear the air.
“I don’t want to drag nobody through the mud, you know what I mean?” Upton said. “I don’t want to be a nuisance. But they wasted a lot of time and taxpayer dollars.”
It all started Saturday afternoon when partygoers — among them elderly men and women, county employees, pregnant women, fathers and Christian bikers — were enjoying $20 chicken platters and drinks at the motorcycle clubhouse as part of a fundraiser for the organization.
Armed officials had been patrolling the area since morning. They knew about the party, Upton said. He had posted fliers for the event a month before.
Tony Botti, a spokesman for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, said gang detectives spotted a man with a gun whom they later identified as Rey Rodriguez in the 3200 block of East Belmont Avenue near the Savage Assassins property. Detectives recognized Rodriguez, a felon who was not allowed to carry weapons, as a member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.
Detectives called out to Rodriguez, but he walked into the Savage Assassins clubhouse, Botti said. Savage Assassins members then closed their gate, locked officers out and demanded a warrant from authorities.
For almost seven hours, guests were locked inside while deputies got a warrant. Sheriff’s officials and Upton disagree about who was responsible for the detainment.
When SWAT officers arrived, they stormed in, damaging doors and other property, Upton said.
One man’s hands were zip-tied and he was hospitalized after struggling to breathe. Those who closed the property’s gate or interfered with authorities’ search were detained. One man was arrested on an outstanding DUI warrant.
For many people, it was simply a case of being in the “wrong place at the wrong time,” Botti said.
Fresno sheriff’s officials did target the gathering, but as part of a separate investigation Botti said he couldn’t discuss. Authorities thought the Savage Assassins were affiliated with the Hells Angels because the group was displaying the black-and-red colors of the Hells Angels logo.
But Upton said the group’s colors are gray and red and he doesn’t know Rodriguez or any other Hells Angels members. He said the sign outside the Savage Assassins clubhouse has red lettering outlined with white on a dark background.
He and the other Savage Assassins members have better things to do than be hassled by police, Upton said. As vice president of the group, he organizes volunteer events, such as coat drives for the homeless.
When he’s not working with Savage Assassins, Upton runs a tattoo shop and takes care of his two young sons, ages 3 and 4, while his wife works as a nurse.
“We’re just a group of guys that hang out and have a good time. This ain’t ‘Sons of Anarchy.’ ”
When asked whether officials targeted the Savage Assassins group because of its members’ appearance, Botti said: “No. It has nothing to do with that. There’s details I can’t get into as to what brought detectives there.”
Fresno sheriff’s officials and the Savage Assassins do agree on one thing, though. The whole thing was blown out of proportion — with each side blaming the other for the debacle.
Everyone who was arrested has since been released after posting bail or being cited, Botti said.