Lawsuit will explore Fresno’s bygone era of outlaw bikers

In the old days, Robert Williams used to drink and fight, talk back to cops, race around the Valley on a Harley chopper and cause all sorts of trouble.It was a badge of honor to be known as a tough guy in the 5 Diamonds outlaw biker gang, he says.

Williams’ renegade image took a blow in 2014. He contends in a Fresno County Superior Court lawsuit (link is external)that he was falsely accused of exposing himself to a 5-year-old girl at the Riverbend Mobile Home Park in Sanger so a manager could illegally evict him and his wife.

Now he is fighting for his life — literally.
“In his world, being labeled a child molester is a death sentence,” said Fresno attorney Justin Vecchiarelli, who has filed a defamation lawsuit to clear Williams’ name.

Williams, 58, is a leftover from a notorious time when the Hells Angels and other outlaw bikers roamed the Valley highways and took over places like Fran’s Covered Wagon on Whitesbridge Avenue in Fresno, Mike’s Bar below Friant Dam and Ducey’s Lodge at Bass Lake in Madera County.

Those places are long gone: Fran’s got demolished four decades ago for a drug and alcohol recovery program; Mike’s Bar was sold about 10 years ago; and the old Ducey’s burned to the ground in the summer of 1988. But for Williams, those hangouts represented a treasured past, a time when men were men and disrespect wasn’t tolerated.
“He would fight at the drop of a hat,” said Robert Verduzco, current president of the 5 Diamonds motorcycle club who has known Williams at least 30 years.
“Hurting a child? That’s not him,” Verduzco said.

Outlaw biker gangs came to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s, becoming the symbol for a young, rebellious generation whose only concern was to have a good time, the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Organized Crime and Criminal Intelligence (link is external) said in May 1991 report.

These gangs would ride into a town and drink and brawl to their hearts’ content, the report says.
The culture started changing in the 1970s, when the biker gangs turned into criminal enterprises, selling drugs and using violence and intimidation, as well as their expertise with weaponry, to become a formidable threat to society, the report says.

The report says the Hells Angels, the Bandidos, the Pagans and the Outlaws were considered the “Big Four” biker gangs. Since then, the Mongols have joined the infamous group. Though the 5 Diamonds aren’t in the same league as the Hells Angels, the gang has some street cred — it was identified in the report as one of 48 lesser-known outlaw biker gangs in California.
Related stories from The Fresno Bee

Former outlaw biker sues to clear name (link is external)

According to Vecchiarelli, Williams’ role in the 5 Diamonds plays a major role in his lawsuit.
“Outlaw bikers hate child molesters,” the lawyer said. If Williams isn’t successful in court, he “could end up in a shallow grave,” Vecchiarelli said.

Vecchiarelli and co-counsel Steven Stoker spell out the issue in court papers.
They have sued Riverbend Mobile Home Park and its former manager, Rocky Munson, for slander, assault and battery, retaliatory eviction and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The trial is pending. The defendants and their lawyers declined to return numerous telephone calls and emails. But in court papers, they denied the allegations, saying their actions “were justified and necessary because of the unlawful immoral conduct of the plaintiff.”

In addition, they said the child-molestation accusation against Williams is protected free speech. (Williams was never criminally charged with molestation.)
The legal response caused Williams to bristle.
“It’s a total lie,” he said.

Quiet life shattered

Filed in November 2013, the lawsuit barely mentions Williams’ carefree life as a 5 Diamonds biker from 1985 to 2002. Instead, the lawsuit focuses on the quiet life that Williams and his wife, Kimberly, were living at Riverbend Mobile Home Park on Kings Canyon Road, along the Kings River.
“It was great waking up to the sounds of birds and seeing all those trees,” said Williams, who moved into the mobile home park in October 2010.

His tranquil life ended Jan. 3, 2012, when he fell through an old wooden bridge on the mobile home property and injured his back, the lawsuit says. Once he sued Riverbend for medical expenses, Munson began harassing Williams, the lawsuit says.

For example, Munson would ignore Williams’ request for a new gas meter, which caused Williams’ propane tank to run out twice. Munson also shut off Williams’ water multiple times, the lawsuit says.
By April 2013, Munson was yelling at Williams. He then made about 30 complaints about Williams to the Sheriff’s Office, accusing Williams of “actions that he did not commit,” the lawsuit says.

Before the Jan. 3, 2012, accident, Munson never had complained to the Sheriff’s Office about Williams, nor did Williams ever suffer harassment from Munson, the lawsuit says.

In September 2013, Munson escalated his actions, allegedly punching Williams’ injured back and spitting in Williams’ face and telling Williams he was no longer allowed in the common areas of the mobile home park, the lawsuit says.

Once Williams settled his personal injury lawsuit against Riverbend in February 2014, the mobile home park retaliated by filing an unlawful detainer against Williams, the lawsuit says. In general, an unlawful detainer lawsuit is brought by a landlord to regain possession of rented property and receive payment of back rent. In order to legally evict a tenant, the landlord must file an unlawful detainer lawsuit.

In Riverbend’s unlawful detainer lawsuit, it listed in writing a number of complaints, including that Williams fought with his wife, disturbed other tenants, grew marijuana and that he “flashed his bare buttocks and used profanity against another park tenant and her 5-year-old daughter.” Munson also told tenants and others that the indecent exposure allegations against Williams were true, Williams’ lawsuit says.

The “slanderous statements,” specifically the one that alleged that Williams exposed himself to a young child, caused Williams to fear for his life, his lawsuit says.

That’s because outlaw bikers, Williams said, have a golden rule: Don’t harm children.
“We consider them innocent,” he said.

Williams moved out of the Riverbend park in June 2014 after Munson refused to accept his rent payments, his lawsuit says. The last straw was on June 2 last year when Williams walked into the manager’s office to pay his rent and noticed a gun on a desk next to Munson, the lawsuit says. “Munson dialed 911 and claimed he was in fear of his life and would have to shoot the plaintiff,” the lawsuit says.

In the recent interview, Williams said the allegation that he exposed himself has caused him anxiety and given him a painful rash of blisters on his arms. In his younger days, Williams, who has a faded tattoo of a dragon on his left arm and faded tattoos of an eagle and a snake on his right arm, said he would have handled the dispute himself — with his fists.

But he said he likes his freedom too much to resort to his former life.
Fresno County court records say Williams never has been accused of child molestation. But from 1987 to 2005, prosecutors filed six misdemeanors and six felony cases against him. The vast majority of cases were dismissed, the records show. And since 2006, he has had only three traffic tickets.
“I have never been convicted of a felony or gone to prison,” Williams said.

Among his convictions was his guilty plea in 1989 to misdemeanor assault. He was sentenced to three years of probation and mental health counseling. In 2003, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of drugs and was sentenced to a drug treatment program that he completed, court records show.

A year later, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to probation and a batterer’s treatment program. He completed the Marjaree Mason Center’s domestic-violence program in 2007. Former lawman Jerry Pearce, who lives in the foothills northeast of Clovis, said he doesn’t know if Williams’ life is in danger because the 5 Diamonds aren’t well known. But he says outlaw bikers do have a code against child molesters. “They are despised,” he said.

Confronting biker gangs

Pearce knows what he is talking about — he once worked as a deputy sheriff in San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles counties, and in the 1960s he infiltrated the Hells Angels and rode with them on behalf of the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. Today, he is a private investigator and best known locally for his radio program, “The Radio Detective.”

Former Madera Sheriff Ed Bates also said the 5 Diamonds weren’t well known, but the Hells Angels were the real deal. Bates, who was sheriff from 1970 to 1980, said the Hells Angels would come annually to Bass Lake and terrorize campers until he and his deputies ran them out of town.
“They knew I wasn’t kidding around,” said Bates, now 89 years old.

One time, Bates said he caught the Hells Angels using machine guns to cut down trees to use as firewood. After he arrested them, the Hells Angels put a hit out on him. Instead of hiding, Bates said he confronted a Hells Angels encampment, armed with a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol in one hand, and a .45-caliber long Colt revolver in the other.
“I told them I had a deputy hiding on the ridge with a sniper rifle and orders to kill if anything happened to me,” Bates said. “They backed down and left Madera County.”

Another time, law enforcement kicked the Hells Angels out of the town of Friant in Fresno County. But before they could ride toward Bass Lake, Bates said he confronted them on Highway 41 at the junction of Highway 145.

Wearing a white cowboy hat, blue jeans and boots, Bates said he stood on Highway 41, holding a 30-06 Springfield rifle with a 16-inch bayonet. He said he stopped the Hells Angels in their tracks. “They turned around and left,” he said.

Horrible childhood

Williams said his bad behavior as an outlaw biker was the product of horrible childhood. He said he was born in Bakersfield and quit school around the ninth grade. He said his father hated him and would beat him and his mother. He said he was glad when someone finally killed his father. “Some guy put a bullet in the back of his head while he was sitting at a bar,” Williams said. “I was about 24 years old then.”

Williams said he wanted to be an outlaw biker after hearing tales of them.
“They don’t play,” he said.

Like the time in April 1974, when the Mongols rumbled in from Los Angeles and tangled with local bikers in the parking lot of Mike’s Bar. Shots were fired, and one of the Mongols took a bullet in the leg, according to Williams and newspaper accounts.

The fight happened on the weekend of the Clovis Rodeo, an event that drew biker crowds of 800 to 1,000 to Friant in the 1970s and early ’80s, published reports say. The bikers also used to take over a bar at Pierce’s Park in Sanger, he said.

The bar and property once belonged to Otis Pierce, a gunslinging singer from Missouri who came to Sanger in 1926 and opened the bar and a dance hall alongside the Kings River that catered to outlaw bikers, cowboys, Native Americans and tourists seeking a drink and to hear Pierce and his friends play old-time country music.

Pierce’s Park gained notoriety in 1977 when it hosted a rally for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Pierce offered the property after the group couldn’t find another Fresno County site to host it. He entertained a small crowd with his music until the cross-burning ceremony began, published reports say.

The bar burned down in August last year.
Williams said he was too young to be an outlaw biker back then. He joined the 5 Diamonds in 1985, when saw them in a bar near Pine Flat. He recalled that five of them stood up from their bar stools to fight him after he declined to introduce himself.
“I thought I was a badass,” he said.

One of the bikers punched him in the face and broke his nose.
“I learned respect that day,” he said.

The 5 Diamonds allowed him to join. Because he loved to fight, the 5-feet-8, 260-pound Williams soon became sergeant of arms.
Williams has a 5150 tattoo on his chest; 5150 is a California Welfare and Institutions Code that police cite when someone is mentally unstable and a danger to himself or others.
“He’s a different kind of individual,” said Verduzco, who vouched for Williams’ character: “He may like to fight, but he would never hurt a kid. That’s not him.”

Verduzco said the 5 Diamonds, which has chapters in Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties and recently celebrated 40 years in the Valley, also has changed. Though members still get into barfights once in awhile, Verduzco said they no longer see themselves as outlaws or renegades. Instead, they are motorcycle club members who do toy drives at Christmas and raise money for the Fresno Fire Department and nonprofits that rescue horses.
“Ninety percent of our membership have jobs,” Verduzco said.

Verduzco said Williams left the club in good standing.
Williams said he left because times changed and he wanted to settle down. Over the years, Williams said he has had several relationships, which have produced six children, 14 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He said he thought he had found happiness at the Riverbend Mobile Home Park. “It’s beautiful. It’s peaceful,” he said.

But when he was kicked out of Riverbend, he destroyed his mobile home. He and his wife, Kimberly, now live with relatives in Fresno until the lawsuit is resolved.
“My name, my reputation is all I have,” he said. “Everything else means nothing.”