- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

WILLOW GROVE, Pa. — Ron Miner stopped talking and stared at the defendant walking past him into the courtroom. He made sure the man, charged with sexually assaulting a 3-year-old girl, got a look at the patches on his denim vest: Bikers Against Child Abuse.

Longtime participants of toy runs and other charity fund-raisers, some bikers now take their motorcycles to the courtroom for a more personal stand against child abuse. They say their fierce reputation lends strength to victims and their families in court.

Mr. Miner had kind words and a hug for the girl’s mother, getting ready to testify. “We’re not here to threaten anybody. We’re here to let you know that people do care,” he told her.

Mr. Miner and four other members of the Bikers Against Child Abuse of Montgomery County Inc. attended a recent preliminary hearing in district court, all wearing patch-covered denim vests over their leather jackets. They make time during the week to come to court, they say, to fill a void for families in need.

“They need a bigger shoulder to lean on than they’re getting from the public,” said chapter President Keith “Orangeman” Dungan, of North Wales.

To the girl’s mother, who didn’t know the bikers were coming, Mr. Dungan offered his cell-phone number to call if she needed food, clothing or a contact with the county’s social services.

Mr. Miner, known to fellow bikers as “Pinhead,” got on his knees to talk to the girl; she hid her eyes under a hat.

The 40-member group, part of a Pennsylvania-based organization that promotes child abuse awareness and prevention, made their first court appearance in December 2001. The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office embraced their initiative.

Wendy Demchick-Alloy, chief of the office’s sex crimes unit, said the bikers are “law-abiding, civilized, very well-intentioned.”

“I’m sure there’s going to be some whining at some point, ‘They’re intimidating.’ That’s not what they’re doing. They want to help,” she said.

Last year a judge in Provo, Utah, ordered bikers attending pretrial hearings for a man charged with molesting children to leave their jackets bearing their logo outside the courtroom. The logo showed a red and white fist with “BACA” across the knuckles.

The bikers in their leather riding gear “just made it a circus every time we had court,” defense attorney Mike Esplin said, by making intimidating comments to the family of his client.

“The defendant is presumed to be innocent, and such activities detract from that presumption,” Mr. Esplin said. “They’re very emotionally charged and they may have some justification for being upset — child abuse is a serious problem — but from my standpoint that does not outweigh the right to a fair trial.”

Utah police have overcome their initial apprehension about the group’s biker image, said Val Shupe, president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, representing 136 police chiefs statewide.

“They haven’t caused us any real consternation. They’re a group that tries to do something useful,” Chief Shupe said. “And as long as they have the type of agenda that they do, I don’t know that we will, because we’re all against child abuse.”

The Pennsylvania Bikers Against Child Abuse, whose logo is a motorcycle above their motto, “Please Stop the Hurt, it’s their Future,” are not affiliated with the Utah group.

Members from both biker groups repeat the same mission statement: We want to help children feel safe. We just happen to ride motorcycles.

Court appearances are part of an intervention plan developed by a child therapist who in 1995 founded the Utah-based Bikers Against Child Abuse Inc. Paul DuBois, the group’s spokesman, said members in 15 states go to court to make children feel safe enough to testify.

“The perpetrator might get a little intimidated, and that’s OK in our opinion, because what did that perpetrator do to that child when he was raping him?” he said.

The bikers get involved at the request of an abused child’s family once a case is brought to court, Mr. DuBois said. A group rides to the child’s home and establishes two members as emergency contacts for the child. Members must pass criminal background checks.

They also pledge to “do whatever it takes” to protect a child. That sounds extreme, Mr. DuBois said, but it’s what any parent would do.

Mr. Miner and the Montgomery County bikers never spoke to the defendant. They had hoped he would waive his preliminary hearing so the girl’s mother would not have to testify; the judge set bail and ordered him held for trial.

Outside the court building, Mr. Miner saw a small victory for the child. “They didn’t totally take his bail, but he doesn’t have the money to get out,” he said. “We feel good about what was accomplished.”

Then Mr. Miner turned to watch the man being led into a waiting police car. He kept his eyes on the car until the man was secure in the back seat and the door closed.

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