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Charges dropped in biker case

Accused gang member prevails after defense successfully argues against validity of search warrants. Prosecutors plan to appeal.

June 05, 2010|By Joseph Serna

A Superior Court judge on Friday dropped felony charges against a Costa Mesa man implicated in a 2008 biker brawl, bringing a tentative close to the cases stemming from the barroom incident.

John Phillip Lloyd, 42, was accused of being a Hells Angel gang member with a loaded gun, carrying a concealed weapon, robbery and street terrorism.

The charges were dismissed after prosecutors refused to give the defense a portion of their search warrant that identified a police informant.

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Lloyd was one of seven men charged in connection with the 2008 summer melee inside Blackies By the Sea bar, in Newport Beach, between members of the Hells Angels and Set Free Soldiers biker gangs.

About a week after the fight, Lloyd and others were arrested in a countywide raid of suspected gang members' homes. Hundreds of guns, knives and illegal drugs were collected.

Authorities' justification for searching Lloyd's and another man's home crumbled by what prosecutors are characterizing as a simple misunderstanding between police and themselves.

When Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard M. King asked prosecutors for the search warrant and the sealed affidavit — the sworn testimony of a police detective showing probable cause for a search — Det. Christine O'Donnell handed over what she had.

Part of it was certified by the court clerk in Newport Beach's Harbor Justice Center, but the sealed portion was not.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Eric Petersen presented the entire warrant, sealed portion included, as certified by the court.

O'Donnell testified that she gave the court the sealed portion of the warrant, which included informant information, defense attorneys claimed.

That meant the judge must question the validity of her sworn statement giving justification for searching Hells Angels members' homes, the defense argued.

King agreed and said if prosecutors could not reveal the sealed portion to the defense so they could address the claims, he'd have to throw out anything found by police during their search.

Prosecutors refused, leading to Friday's dismissal of the charges.

"Justice has been served. There was no reason to go to his house in the first place," said Gary Wenkle Smith, Lloyd's defense attorney. "Lloyd's grateful the system worked. We're grateful for Judge King."

In March, prosecutors had to dismiss gun and drug charges against Costa Mesa resident Brian Heslington, 37.

"It's a very collateral issue. It's not relevant to the nature of the warrant or the validity of the warrant," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Elizabeth Molfetta, one of the prosecutors on the case.

She said her office will appeal King's ruling on the warrants in the local Court of Appeal.

The dismissal Friday draws a tentative close to the cases related to the biker brawl.

Most men involved, including the leader of the Set Free Soldiers, Phillip Aguilar, were sentenced to probation or a few months in jail.

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