Deputy Accused Of Being A Mongols Motorcycle Gang Member Bound Over For Trial

By Mark Gutglueck
A San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy suspected of affiliating with the Mongols and possessing illegal weapons to benefit the outlaw motorcycle gang was ordered to stand trial.
Superior Court Judge Alexander R. Martinez on Wednesday, April 24, bound San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Bingham over for trial on a host of charges growing out of what the sheriff’s department originally alleged was his “possession of an unlicensed firearm” and being an “active participant in a criminal street gang.”
Over the objections of criminal defense attorney Jeff Moore that the arrest of Bingham on March 23 was based on misinformation, erroneous conclusions, mistakes and a lack of probable cause, as was the warrant for the search of Bingham’s home carried out later that day which yielded approximately 160 licensed firearms, four explosive devices, two silencers and a single less-than-lethal shotgun, the later of which it was claimed Bingham had stolen from the sheriff’s department’s Morongo Valley station, Judge Martinez concluded that the arrest of Bingham was not necessarily invalid because the officers involved had acted in good faith despite whatever errors were made.
Nevertheless, the judge said he anticipated that “whatever decision this court makes is going to be appealed by the other side, and I look forward to and invite Fourth District Court of Appeal review and scrutiny of this court’s decision.”
After the conclusion of testimony on Monday, Judge Martinez put off until Wednesday making his decision on a case which started off with much fanfare and spectacle when Sheriff Shannon Dicus on April 4, the day of the defendant’s second arrest and what was his last day of freedom so far, unequivocally stated that Bingham had engaged in “criminal behavior that will not be tolerated. The actions of this deputy are alarming and inexcusable. He not only tarnishes his badge but also undermines the integrity and credibility of the entire department.” In the announcement of Bingham’s arrests and the filing of charges against him, the defendant was characterized as law enforcement officer leading a “double life” while being a member of the Mongols outlaw motorcycle gang who had engaged in advancing that organizations interests by engaging in criminal activity.
During the course of a three day preliminary hearing on April 18, 19 and 22, however, it was learned that while Bingham had associated with Mongols members by riding with them and attending some of their public rallies, he had not been formerly accepted into the organization as a member and that the department’s representations of Bingham having clandestinely involved himself in the outlaw biker lifestyle while keeping it a secret from his employer was untrue, and that one of the wasys his affiliation with the Mongols was known was because he had openly plastered the outside of his work locker located in the deputies’ locker room at the sheriff’s department’s Central Jail in San Bernardino with Mongols stickers and other indicia of the motorcycle club.
Moreover, it emerged during the preliminary hearing that a crucial fact leading to his first arrest on March 23 – that he was carrying an unlicensed firearm – was no fact at all and the gun in question was registered to him.
That arrest took place on the side of the 10 Freeway just west of Oak Valley Parkway in Beaumont in Riverside County during a California Highway Patrol traffic stop executed by CHP Sergeant Scott Beauchene and CHP Officer Teodora Blanco in which Bingham and two Mongols were on their three motorcycles traveling at a speed approaching 80 miles an hour in a 70 mile per hour maximum speed zone. The two Mongols members were cited and allowed to leave, despite one of them being in the possession of a knife, as was Bingham. When Bingham was patted down, he was found to be carrying a loaded Glock 9 millimeter pistol and two magazines.
Discretely, outside the earshot of the Mongols, Bingham told Sergeant Beauchene he was a law enforcement officer. Beauchene testified at the preliminary hearing that based upon Bingham’s status as a law enforcement officer, Penal Code Section 830.5, which allows law enforcement officers to carry loaded firearms on their person while they are off duty and the circumstance, he did not believe making an arrest of Bingham was justified. Bingham was placed under arrest at the scene of the traffic stop in Riverside County by San Bernardino County Deputy Robert Stucki, who earlier that afternoon had followed Bingham while he was riding his Harley-Davidson in the company of one of the Mongols in Yucca Valley before they had united with the other Mongol rider near the freeway.
It was Stucki, who was actively participating in an investigation of Bingham and his relationship to the Mongols that had begun in January of this year, who had contacted the California Highway Patrol dispatch center to have the Highway Patrol follow Bingham and his Mongol companions on the 10-Freeway as they were traveling to Irwindale in Los Angeles County for a Mongol rally scheduled for later that evening.
After Stucki arrived in Beaumont, he effectuated Bingham’s arrest, doing so on a charge of having a loaded gun while participating in a criminal street gang. Stucki believed he had the authority to make the arrest, even though he had not himself witnessed the crime which was committed outside his normal jurisdiction, since the crime was a felony and one witnessed by other law enforcement officers.
Upon making the arrest, Stucki turned Bingham over to the custody of Officer Blanco, who booked him into the the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning, also in Riverside County. Notably, the two Mongols with whom Bingham was riding, whose association with him on March 23 formed the basis for the charge that he was participating in criminal activity, were not arrested, nor was the criminal activity in which the trio was allegedly engaged specified.
During the course of the preliminary hearing it was revealed that Bingham’s connection with the Mongols fell short of actual membership in the organization.
Sergeant Josh Guerry, who as a member of the sheriff’s gang and narcotics division was assigned to the Bingham case, testified that Bingham was not a Mongols member but was either a “hangaround” — an individual interested in obtaining Mongols membership who occasionally rides with members and socializes with them for several months — or had become a “prospect,” i.e., a prospective member. During the hangaround and prospect stages, the Mongols acolyte endeavors to establish himself as worthy of membership by demonstrating his loyalty and that he is worthy of trust, according to Guerry. This is done, according to Guerry, by carrying a weapon or weapons while in the presence of other Mongols so that the members are not arrested or charged with a crime as the result of a confrontation with law enforcement, by submitting to a traffic stop from a law enforcement officer and being the first to pull over when the group is riding so the others can avoid being ticketed and by remaining mum and abiding by the code of “omertà” or secrecy with regard to the gang, most notably its illegal activities.
While Bingham was yet in custody at the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning attempting to make arrangements to post bail and secure his release, Stucki, in conjunction with San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department detectives Jeremy Spinney and Joshua Giles, prepared an affidavit for a search warrant that was provided to Judge Christopher Pallone. Evidence was produced at the preliminary hearing to show that after Judge Pallone signed off on the search warrant, it was served at Bingham’s Twentynine Palms home on March 23, investigators turned up, in addition to a virtual arsenal, so-called Mongols paraphernalia, including a vest adorned with Mongols patches, Mongols emblems, literature relating to the Mongols and stickers. It was also established, however, that while Bingham was riding with the two Mongols members, who were wearing Mongols vests and patches on March 23, he was not wearing a Mongols vest but a dark jacket. Beneath the jacket he was wearing a T-Shirt with two Mongols-related phrases or acronyms: “Fuck The 81,” with 81 meaning HA or Hells Angels, and “SYLM,” which translates to “Support Your Local Mongols.” He was also wearing a belt with a buckle that featured a large black M, which was interpreted as referencing the Mongols. He had around his neck at the time a chain with a ring, the signet of which bore a large M.
The Mongols symbology Bingham wore was not noted on March 23, however, until he had already been arrested and was in custody the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility.
In testimony relating to Bingham’s comportment other than on March 23, it was brought out that an analysis of the contents of two of Bingham’s cell phones that had been seized showed that in his communications through text messages and other means he had with Mongols members he had used the alias Charles Tate.
An important element of the case against Bingham is the enhancement allegations with regard to each charge that propound the defendant’s actions were done with the intention of furthering the goals and activities of a criminal gang, in this case the Mongols. The language contained in the charges against Bingham holds that each of his actions in some fashion redounded “for the benefit of” or were done “at the direction of, and in association with a criminal street gang.”
Yet, during the preliminary hearing, Detective Jeremy Spinney testified that no Mongols had ever visited Bingham’s home, which was confirmed by Bingham’s wife during the search of the home. Central to the theory that Bingham was advancing the interests of the Mongols was that as a firearms expert who had a federal firearms license and once owned a gun shop in Twentynine Palms which provided as one of its services customized gunsmithing, the sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office maintain that Bingham was providing specialized weaponry to the Mongols, including bombs and explosive devices being used in their hostilities against their rivals, the Hells Angels. A suggestion to this effect, which has yet to be substantiated with any proof, is that among the approximately 160 firearms seized at Bingham’s residence, all of which were registered, was a fully automatic assault rifle with an attached grenade launcher along with three explosive projectiles.
Guerry also testified that text messages obtained from one of Bingham’s seized phones revealed a discussion the defendant had with a suspected Mongols member about Bingham potentially converting a less-than-lethal training gun into a fully functioning firearm by replacing the slide, i.e., the spring-loaded part of a semi-automatic gun housing the barrel, guide rod, extractor and firing pin that reciprocates with recoil, moving back and forth during the operation cycle. Such a conversion, however, would be nothing beyond what any gunsmith could do, and did not relate to any specific action to be taken by the Mongols against the Hells Angels.
Guerry testified the department had turned up no evidence to demonstrate Bingham provided the Mongols with weapons or ammunition or that he performed any enhancements to weaponry they possessed.
Bingham’s defense attorney, Jeff Moore, maintained his client’s March 23 arrest lacked probable cause and was based on factual error and misassumptions. Moore further claimed that Bingham’s status as a law enforcement officer rendered the grounds under which the arrest was predicated inapplicable, based on Section 830.5 of the Penal Code.
Bingham’s arrest involved California Penal Code Section 25850, under which it is a crime for a person to carry a loaded firearm while he is in a public place. While prosecutors typically bring misdemeanor charges against first-time Penal Code Section 25850 offenders, in those matters involving a felon or a gang member carrying a firearm, the prosecution is obliged to charge the crime as a felony. According to Moore, in this case Penal Code Section 25850 is trumped by Section 830.5 of the California Penal Code, which allows law enforcement officers to carry a firearm while off duty.
The matter was complicated, somewhat, by the consideration that when Sergeant Beauchene ran a registration check on Bingham’s Glock through the California Department of Justice computer system, he entered the entirety of the registration nomenclature stamped on the side of the gun, which included the letters U and S following a series of numbers. The response indicated the gun was unregistered.
What was seen as Bingham’s possession of an unlicensed firearm ostensibly strengthened the case against him at that time, and it at least in part played a role in the action that was taken against him, including his arrest and the issuing of a search warrant. Subsequently, however, when an evidence technician with the sheriff’s department ran a check to verify the gun was not licensed as it was being booked into evidence and did so leaving out the U and the S, which were meant to show that it was on file within the federal registry of guns, the data base check showed it was indeed registered to Bingham.
“This arrest of my client on Penal Code Section 25850 was without probable cause and without justification,” Moore argued before Judge Alexander Martinez on April 22 in attempting to support his motion to quash and traverse the search warrant, suppress the evidence and have Bingham’s property returned to him. Moore further argued that Stucki, as a San Bernardino County deputy, did not have authority to arrest Bingham on suspicion of a crime that was not committed in his presence and in a jurisdiction where he was not employed, that being Riverside County. Moore made the point that ultimately the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office did not charge Bingham with possessing a loaded gun while participating in a criminal street gang, which is what he was arrested for and that the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office did not charge him with that crime either.
Moore’s argument was that since the sheriff’s department action that followed Bingham’s arrest – the search of his home – was based on the invalid arrest, the search warrant itself was invalid and all of the evidence collected against his client was inadmissible.
Additionally, Moore maintained, the investigators who sought the search warrant withheld from Judge Pallone certain material facts, such as Bingham’s status as a law enforcement officer and the invalidity of the Penal Code Section 25850 arrest pursuant to Section 830.5 of the California Penal Code and made other misrepresentations and miscarriages of the law to obtain the search warrant.
Moore said that judges in determining whether a warrant should be issued need to be able to know all of the relevant information to the matter at hand and examine both the affiant and the affidavit in order to “not just be a rubber stamp. Judge Pallone was not provided with all of the information. There is no good faith here. They [the deputy and detectives seeking the warrant] felt they had to act, so they provided a warrant that was devoid of probable cause.”
Deputy District Attorney Alberto Juan called Moore’s argument a red herring, implying that Moore was seeking to divert Judge Martinez’s attention from the substance of the case, which was that Bingham is a law enforcement officer who has involved himself in a criminal organization, i.e., the Mongols.
On Monday, April 22, Juan called upon Judge Martinez to resist Moore’s invitation to dwell on the letter of Penal Code Section 830.5, which invests in law enforcement officers the right to carry firearms, stating that doing so would be to “overthink” the matter. Juan argued that in creating Penal Code Section 830.5 it was not the intent of the California Legislature to allow police officers who are involved in criminal activity to carry firearms in carrying out the commission of felonies.
Juan was thrown, at least temporarily, when Judge Martinez, in pursuing a refutation of Moore’s argument, posed to him a question as to why Bingham had not been charged with having a loaded gun while participating in a criminal street gang. Juan attempted to recover by saying that was a crime that occurred in Riverside County, which should have been pursued by the prosecutors there. Juan then propounded that the arrest had taken place because Bingham was engaged in carrying a gun while involved in street gang activity, which were overlapping and articulating facts that established probable cause for Deputy Stucki’s action.
Juan asserted that the arrest was valid and so was the search warrant. “There is no reason to suppress this evidence,” he insisted.
Judge Martinez sought from Moore whether the authority granted to a police officer to carry a gun under Section 830.5 of the California Penal Code is absolute. Though Moore has not conceded that Bingham is a member of the Mongols and has, in fact, maintained that he is not a member of that organization, he found himself hemmed in when Judge Martinez asked him if Penal Code Section 830.5 would remain applicable if Bingham was “actively associating with a criminal gang?” Moore responded, “That’s correct.”
While it had been anticipated that Judge Martinez would enter a decision on Monday morning with regard to Moore’s motions and as to whether the charges against Bingham would stand such that he would be bound over for trial, after hearing Guerry’s testimony and the arguments from Juan and Moore, Martinez said that given the complexity of the case, he would consider the matter, the testimony and evidence presented and the countervailing arguments carefully before ruling. He postponed making his decision until Wednesday afternoon, April 24.
At that appointed time, commencing his statement by stating he believed his decision, no matter which way it went, would be appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Judge Martinez shut out Bingham and Moore entirely.
Challenges to Stucki’s arrest of Bingham did not hold up, Martinez ruled. He stated that the jurisdictional element of the challenge to the arrest was overcome by the consideration that Stucki, even though he was not in San Bernardino County, was acting not as a police officer while he was in Riverside County but had effectuated a citizen’s arrest of Bingham.
“Deputy Stucki engaged in a lawful citizen’s arrest,” said Judge Martinez.
The jurist rejected Moore’s contention and his motion that the search warrant was vague and overly broad.
Within the affidavit submitted to Judge Pallone which served as the basis for the search Warrant, Judge Martinez said, “The defendant is clearly being identified as a San Bernardino County deputy. The court does not see how any law enforcement officer withheld any information. The motions to quash and traverse the search warrant and suppress the evidence are all denied. There is sufficient cause to believe the offenses and special circumstances have been committed, I hold the defendant to answer thereto.”
The judge ordered Bingham to return to court May 10 for a pretrial hearing in Department S9 before Judge Harold T. Wilson.

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