NEW YORK (AP) — It's conventional wisdom on a block in Manhattan's East Village that the Hells Angels bikers at a notorious local headquarters there aren't necessarily horrible neighbors — but just don't do anything to disturb the bikes parked outside.
A man from upstate New York learned that lesson the hard way earlier this week when he tried to move one of the orange traffic cones the bikers used to hold curbside parking spots. The outsider ended up in the hospital with a gunshot wound, setting off the latest dust up between police and the motorcycle club.
With the secretive group refusing to help investigators identify the shooter, patrol officers swept onto the mostly residential block this week and ticketed the tenement building it owns for petty offenses that had previously been ignored: installing an unauthorized bench, planters and a motorcycle ramp on the sidewalk outside the front door. All were removed the same day, with the New York Police Department saying it was merely responding to civilian complaints.
And the cones? They were taken, too, tossed into the back of a police cruiser.
"I don't know how they got away with the parking thing in the first place," Megan McNally, a 26-year-old paralegal from Brooklyn who once lived in the neighborhood, said a couple of days later as she walked by the club. "And then somebody has to get shot over it?"
On this day, six motorcycles — three on each side — were parked in rows in front of the clubhouse, apparently legally. A "No Parking, Except for Authorized Hells Angels" sign remained posted on its red brick facade.
Asked about the shooting, three merchants along the block mostly shrugged it off. They said that the Hells Angels kept to themselves and that their claim on one of New York's rarest commodities — parking — had been quietly accepted for years.
"It's all about staying away from the bikes," one said.
Still, all spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of running afoul of their neighbors at 77 East Third Street.
A reporter's knocks on the door went unanswered at the apartment building the Hells Angels have occupied since 1969, an era when the East Village's future as a high-rent district was unthinkable. Over the years, the tattooed, Harley-riding members gained a reputation for being the bullies of the block — hosting rowdy parties, harassing passers-by and clashing with authorities who tried to put it to a stop.
In 1985, police raided the clubhouse, making 15 arrests on drug and other charges. The city used the case to try to seize the building in the early 1990s in a federal lawsuit, but a jury sided with the bikers.
The Hells Angels countered with their own litigation, accusing police of illegally searching the headquarters in 1999 and again in 2000. The city agreed to settle the lawsuit by paying the club more than $800,000.
Any mayhem that crops up these days is typically instigated by people who consider the clubhouse a tourist attraction instead of a private property, said attorney Ron Kuby, who's represented the Hell Angels in multiple cases over the years.
Some are "drunk or stupid or drunk and stupid and from out of town," said Kuby, whose latest client is a biker accused of chasing someone down the block with a bat.
In the shooting, police say 25-year-old David Martinez, of Spring Valley, was riding with some friends in a Mercedes-Benz at around 1 a.m. Sunday when he got out to move a cone to get through some traffic.
After a man believed to be with Hells Angels objected, a street fight broke out between Martinez and other men from the car and bikers, police said. Someone drew a gun and shot Martinez in the stomach, then vanished in what remains an unsolved case.
Kuby said any lack of cooperation from the Hells Angels is consistent with their credo of not calling police for help — nor offering any to them.
The Hells Angels, he said, "just want to be left alone."