It would have been an unusual traffic stop any other time of year in South Dakota, but stopping several armed members of the Outlaws biker gang Thursday evening was not peculiar, a law officer said Friday. That’s because of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Motorcycle gang members carrying concealed handguns are stopped daily during the event that draws throngs of bikers and others to the Black Hills each August, said Capt. Kevin Joffer, district commander of the Highway Patrol at Sioux Falls.
"We tell the media not to sensationalize this because this is not out of the ordinary," he said. "Please don’t get people excited because this is going on every day at the rally where law enforcement’s encountering these gangs.
"Is it out of the ordinary from what we normally encounter throughout the year in South Dakota? Yes, it is. But the rally is different. Officers stop some of these motorcycle gang members, and there are several of them that do carry weapons."
Nearly all those stopped have the necessary permits that allow them to carry hidden handguns, Joffer added.
Statistics so far during rally week, which began Monday, seem to bear that out. Although several hundred thousand bikers have converged on Sturgis, just 11 people have been arrested for concealed-weapons violations, said Capt. Randy Hartley, Highway Patrol district commander at Rapid City.
In exchange for the same consideration, South Dakota honors concealed-weapons permits with 16 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
Joffer said a state trooper stopped 10 or so Outlaws motorcycle gang members Thursday night on Interstate 90 near Plankinton because of traffic violations. Backup officers were called only because of the large number stopped, Joffer said.
"One of my sergeants discovered very early on that they were heavily armed, which means probably everybody was armed. There were no problems," Joffer said. "They were all polite to him. He did call for some additional backup just to have there because he had multiple people stopped."
Joffer said some of the Outlaws were given traffic tickets, but all of the bikers had permits to carry concealed weapons and were allowed to continue their trip to Sturgis.
The Highway Patrol official acknowledged that special attention is being paid to motorcycle gangs since a shooting spree Tuesday in Custer State Park between members of two gangs.
Authorities have arrested two men affiliated with the Hells Angels for opening fire on several Outlaws at Legion Lake Resort; five Outlaws were struck by bullets, and one of them suffered an undisclosed injury.
Since the gunfight, authorities have said they would not be surprised by reprisals. But they added that retaliation may not come during the rally and is likely to pop up anywhere in the country. Both the Outlaws and Hells Angels are reported to have more than 2,000 members in several states.
"We’re all kind of nervous," Joffer said. "You wonder if maybe something else will come out of this, which potentially could happen."
South Dakota law allows people with permits to carry concealed weapons nearly everywhere except bars, courthouses and the Capitol. Violators face up to one year in jail and $2,000 fines.
Those who carry hidden handguns must have their permits in possession.
People do not need permits to carry concealed weapons on their own property or property they rent.