PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Law enforcement officials are concerned a feud between two outlaw motorcycle clubs in Rhode Island is a tinderbox on the verge of exploding into a violent turf war.
In June, the Rhode Island State Police organized a meeting between 13 local police departments as well as representatives from the Massachusetts and Connecticut state police amidst growing tensions between the Hells Angels and the Outlaws motorcycle clubs.
Lt. Christopher Zarrella, head of the Rhode Island State Police Intelligence Unit, said the Outlaws recently moved into Rhode Island, which has traditionally been an area solely controlled by the Hells Angels.
“The Outlaws have never been in Rhode Island,” Zarrella said. “Bikers are very territorial. Like any gang … people own their turf, and outlaw motorcycle gangs are no different.”
According to police officials interviewed by Target 12, the Outlaws moved into a clubhouse in Woonsocket in the spring of 2014. The Hells Angels have had a clubhouse in Providence for years.
“[The Hells Angels have] controlled this area for a while,” said East Providence Police Lt. Raymond Blinn. “Now the Outlaws – which they have always had a feud with – have moved into this area.”
“It’s bravado,” Blinn added.
And there already have been some clashes.
A West Warwick police report from July 7 revealed an argument inside a Dunkin’ Donuts in the middle of the afternoon quickly escalated into a fistfight.
The report said a biker from an affiliate of the Hells Angels walked into the coffee shop and spotted a member of the Outlaws and an argument immediately erupted. Before the manager could ask them to leave, fists started to fly. One biker pushed the other “onto a dining area table causing its leg to collapse and causing damage to the table.” Both men were arrested.
One week later, a Woonsocket detective pulled over a truck and discovered a member of the Outlaws with a “large cut on his forehead” that needed medical attention.
“Prior to this motor vehicle stop it was known there was [a] large altercation earlier in the night in West Warwick involving the Outlaw MC and Hells Angels MC,” the reports states.
A police log from West Warwick states calls were pouring into police “reporting 20 bikers fighting in the roadway with bats and wrenches.”
Zarrella said there is “unquestionably” a threat to public safety.
“When there is violence there is collateral damage and that is where the threat to civilians is,” said Zarrella.Two Rival Groups
Zarrella said authorities are concerned that Rhode Island could eventually experience an incident along the lines of what happened in Waco, Texas, in May 2015. A violent clash there between rival Bandidos and Cossacks biker gangs ended with nine dead, 20 injured and 177 arrested, according to news reports. The Associated Press reported all of the dead were members of the motorcycle clubs, but police were involved in the shootout.
“Where there are a greater number of motorcycle gangs in the same area, you’re going to have more problems,” Zarrella said. “I think what you’re seeing in other parts of the country where there are these clashes between rival groups is something you are going to potentially see here in Rhode Island, because Rhode Island is now a territory occupied by two rival groups.”
And it’s not just fights that could lead to outsiders getting hurt. According to a Rhode Island State Police report, a civilian motorcyclist unaffiliated with either gang was seriously injured when a member of the Outlaws driving a truck slammed on his brakes, causing the biker to crash into the back of the truck.
The driver of the truck was acting as a “follow” vehicle, riding behind a pack of Outlaws making sure no other vehicle penetrated their ranks, according to the report.
When the trooper approached the injured motorcyclist, who was thrown from his bike, the rider was “screaming in agony.”
“I observed [the rider] to have road rash all over his body and it appeared his teeth went through his upper lip,” the trooper wrote. “I observed his collar bone was broken and his shoulder was out of place.”
The driver of the pickup truck, Spencer Gould of Biddeford, Maine, was identified as a “full patch” member of the Outlaws and charged with driving to endanger. Three passengers in the truck were also identified as members of the Outlaws.
“Although the above occupants advised they were passengers inside Gould’s vehicle at the time of the crash they all refused to cooperate and provide police with witness statements,” the report said.
“Because of something a group of outlaws were doing caused an accident and an innocent motorcyclist was badly injured because of that,” said Zarrella.Keeping Watch
Target 12 asked to interview leaders from both the Outlaws and Hells Angels, but lawyers for the gangs declined the request.
Police officials said they have increased their monitoring of both groups and are watching for any large gatherings that could lead to violence.
“We do our best to keep tabs and maintain some degree of intelligence up to date,” Zarrella said. “Local law enforcement has been very, very good about aggressively policing their towns with respect to outlaw motorcycle gang activity.”
Zarrella said authorities believe both the Hells Angels and Outlaws have been increasing their memberships in recent months. He said there are also smaller motorcycle clubs that align themselves with one of the two organizations, making it harder to track how many members there are statewide.
“You’ve got some 30-plus organizations affiliated with the two main outlaw motorcycle groups in Rhode Island,” Zarrella said. “That’s a lot of groups for a state this size.” Tim White( email@example.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook