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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Motorcycle Shop’s Colorful Case Thrown Out

GREEN BAY, Wis. (CN) - A motorcycle shop ran out of gas in case alleging police persecution inspired by "Sons of Anarchy," a federal judge ruled.

Eagle Nation Cycles filed its civil rights case against the city of Neenah, Wis., and law enforcement just over a year ago.

Citing the repeated failure of Eagle Nation's attorney, Cole White, to correspond with opposing counsel, however, U.S. District Judge William Griesbach dismissed the case with prejudice last week.

"Meaningful participation in the discovery process is not too much to ask, particularly when that process was initiated by counsel's decision to file a lawsuit in the first place," the five-page order states. "Attorneys who approach litigation as though it is something to be undertaken haphazardly do so at their own risk."

Eagle Nation and its owner, Steve Erato, had filed the suit alongside others present at a 2012 police raid pursuant to search warrant on multiple businesses housed in the shop's Neenah headquarters.

"The warrant laid out claims against 'Eagle Nation,' claiming the facility was being used in a complex drug manufacturing and distribution operation in conjunction with the Hells Lovers motorcycle gang and suggested activities and persons in the facility as if it were an episode of the television series, 'Sons of Anarchy,'" the complaint states, referencing the popular drama about a fictional California biker gang.

Green Bay-based White apparently had trouble bringing the dramatic complaint to life.

Neenah and the other defendants told the court that White failed to properly serve all the parties and ignored multiple letters and emails to schedule depositions.

The defendants wound up setting up depositions without input from the plaintiffs or their counsel, but Judge Griesbach's Jan. 20 decision says no one showed.

Citing the emails, Griesbach discredited White's claims that he received the documents late because the defendants sent them to an old address. White also never notified the court of his new address, the judge said.

Griesbach said White's conduct in this case also mirrors his actions in three of four other cases in the Green Bay branch of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

"After dragging the defendants through more than a year and one-half of litigation in which they were alleged to have terminated the plaintiff due to her race - among the most serious allegations leveled in today's society - plaintiff's counsel did not even respond to a properly supported and briefed summary judgment motion," Griesbach wrote, referencing another case.

In a 2014 interview, Erato said this other case was related to his - the officer spoke up against the raid and was fired as punishment.

Erato suspected that his business's Main Street location, one of the few remaining undeveloped parts of Neenah, motivated the raid. Investors have since announced plans to develop a $6 million office building near the shop's current location, according to local news reports.

A "combat veteran," Erato claimed that the 2012 raid exacerbated his diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.

Though officers found a "small amount marijuana" in one of the Eagle Nation offices, the camera in that office "suspiciously ... cuts out following the police entry into the room and then resumes only after the alleged discovery," according to the complaint.

According to the plaintiffs' response to the motion to dismiss, a transfer of the property may have been part of settlement talks they attempted to schedule in summer of 2015.

Neenah City Attorney James Godlewski declined to comment on the case when it was filed, but denied that the raid was a means to acquire the property for development.

The shop has been in the news more recently as the site of a police standoff that ended in a fatal police shooting of a hostage, according to local news reports.

Wauwatosa-based Gunta Law Offices, the firm representing the city, police department and the majority of the other defendants, did not return calls seeking comment on the dismissal.

White did not return emails, a voicemail and phone calls to multiple listed numbers for his law office.

Erato said attorney White was uncommunicative with him and the other plaintiffs, as well.

Claiming that they had no idea there were depositions scheduled, Erato said the defendants should have reached out to him if they truly wanted his deposition.

Erato offered little comment, stating his new attorney had advised him to keep things off-the-record for now.

"It's nowhere near over," he said in a phone interview Friday.

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