Clay County authorities made two arrests Saturday, using an annual motorcycle gathering in rural Kearney to send a clear message: Law-abiding motorcycling enthusiasts are welcome, but those with other plans should stay away.
Details on those arrests were not immediately available.
Authorities ran license checks on 31 cars, 14 motorcycles and four trucks. They made background checks on 49 persons and issued eight traffic citations for violations that ranged from failure to make proper turn signals to driving with illegal equipment, including high motorcycle handle bars and improper helmets. Deputies also issued 33 traffic warnings.
"Our efforts were focused on traffic enforcement; whether a driver was breaking the law on a motorcycle or while driving a car or truck did not matter," said Lt. Will Akin with the Clay County Sheriff's office.
There were no reported incidents at the gathering, Akin said.
"Our hopes were that the event took place without incident," he said. "Order was maintained and everyone who attended the event was able to do so without an emergency situation occurring."
But organizers of the Mule Run gathering said law officers unfairly targeted people headed to a longtime, peaceful event that raises money for local charities.
Lt. Will Akin of the Clay County Sheriff’s Department said the crackdown came after authorities learned that several rival motorcycle gangs want to set up criminal operations in the county and were planning to attend the overnight event.
“No one has territory here, and they wanted to stake their claim,” Akin said. “Now they’re rolling in, trying to show a presence to establish their territory.”
Authorities said they expected the event to attract members of the Galloping Goose, Bandidos, Sons of Silence, Mongols, Boozefighters and Hells Angels, Akin said.
On Saturday, authorities ran heavy traffic enforcement at Interstate 35 and Missouri 92 in Kearney and along routes from Liberty to Holt. Sheriff’s deputies, police and the Missouri Highway Patrol pulled over cars, pickups and motorcycles for various traffic violations.
Police radios crackled with alerts of large groups of approaching motorcyclists while a police helicopter hovered overhead.
“What we hoped is they got the picture that we were out there and if they were breaking the law, then we were going to pull them over,” Akin said. “We had zero tolerance.”
Authorities arrested at least two people, but they would not say Sunday how many vehicles they stopped. They have scheduled a media briefing for 9 a.m. today.
Event organizers said the police presence was excessive.
“It definitely was profiling,” said one of the organizers, who asked that he not be identified because of the law enforcement crackdown. “We’ve had this event for the past 20 years, and we have never had any problems.”
Clay County authorities said they wanted to prevent the kind of criminal activity that emerged earlier this summer in Omaha, Neb., when a 48-year-old man was found shot to death inside a Hells Angels clubhouse.
In unincorporated Clay County, gang activity has steadily increased, Akin said.
The annual gathering on Saturday was at a home near the Jesse James Farm. Participants, who had to be at least 21 years old, enjoyed live music, plenty of food, beer, a bonfire and a fireworks display.
Organizers said proceeds from the event support local charities, including those that help military combat veterans and children with disabilities.
Countless motorcycles were parked throughout the property. Tents filled the front lawn and also were scattered throughout the property. A stage featuring a Confederate flag stood nearby, along with a host of portable toilets.
In years past, neighbors complained about loud music and illegal parking.
Neighbor Judy Murphy said she knows local residents who have attended the event, and she hasn’t seen problems.
“You’ll hear the music, and you’ll see them all camped out,” Murphy said. “They’re a good group of people; they’ll wave when they go back and forth.”