A Denver Hells Angels Motorcycle Club member who was arrested as part of a sweeping law enforcement action in 2019 filed a federal lawsuit last week over injuries he suffered when police executed the no-knock warrant at his Golden home.
A Jefferson County sheriff’s SWAT deputy shot Dustin “Dusty” Ullerich, 49, with a projectile that was meant to break the lock on his front door, according to a 2020 letter published by then-First Judicial District Attorney Peter Weir when he cleared the officer of wrongdoing.
Ullerich, who suffered serious injuries, claims in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Colorado on Wednesday that police should not have executed the warrant as an unannounced, “no-knock” operation, but rather by “simply walking up to the front door, knocking or ringing the doorbell.”
“Defendants adopted this extremely violent, unnecessary and dangerous tactical plan to damage plaintiff’s home and harass him,” the lawsuit reads. Ullerich has twice before successfully sued Denver police and other law enforcement over their treatment of him.
The tattoo shop owner was one of 14 men targeted in the Nov. 7, 2019, operation against the local Hells Angels club, which authorities consider to be an outlaw motorcycle gang. All over the Denver region at 4 a.m. that day, police officers used flash-bang grenades and door-blasting projectiles to execute 19 search warrants, seizing methamphetamine, cocaine, cash and firearms during the arrests.
The raids came after a five-month investigation into the motorcycle club that began when a former member agreed to cooperate with police and reveal the inner workings of the alleged criminal operation.
At Ullerich’s home, the SWAT team set off flash-bangs and shattered Ullerich’s windows as they approached, according to Weir’s letter. A team of officers tried to break in the front door with a battering ram — one officer shouted, “Sheriff’s office, search warrant, come to the door!” — but the door didn’t budge.
Jefferson County sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Brown then pulled out a short-barreled shotgun with special ammunition designed to break locks. As he pulled the trigger, however, Ullerich came to the door and opened it.
The blast hit Ullerich in the side, gouging a baseball-sized hole in his abdomen. His intestines bulged out through the hole, according to Weir’s letter. Ullerich was hospitalized, put into a coma and nearly died, according to the lawsuit he filed against Jefferson County, the cities of Golden, Aurora and Arvada, and 16 individual officers at the four departments.
Representatives for the three cities and the county did not immediately return requests for comment Monday or declined to comment. Ullerich’s attorney, Paul Fisher, did not return a request for comment.
Ullerich has no prior criminal history, the lawsuit says, and would have complied with an announced search warrant.
“Plaintiff would have responded to any reasonable request for an interview and peaceably submitted to the service of a search warrant on his home and place of business,” the complaint reads. “There was no basis to dispense with the general constitutional requirement of knock notice.”
Federal court documents paint a less peaceful picture of Ullerich. He is accused of helping other Hells Angels members kidnap and severely beat a man as they kicked the man out of the motorcycle club in July 2019.
Hells Angels members attacked the man, zip-tied his hands behind his back and brought him to Ullerich’s tattoo shop, Kool Kats Tattoo Parlor in Englewood, where Ullerich blacked out the man’s Hells Angels tattoos and threatened to kill the man if he ever snitched, investigators allege in court documents.
“This is done to instill fear and intimidation in the victim and warn other of the same result if they betray the Hells Angels,” a federal criminal complaint reads.
The man nevertheless went on to become an informant, and his account of being kidnapped, beaten and stabbed was corroborated by two other witnesses, according to federal court filings. Cell phone records and other physical evidence also support the informant’s account, court filings say, though defense attorneys for the club members questioned the informant’s credibility.
In a group chat viewed by investigators, Ullerich and other club members discussed searching for the man and on July 12, 2019, said they “got him” and were “bringing him to Dusty’s.” Ullerich responded that he was “setting up” and says the group should delete the chat, according to the federal complaint.
“We are putting to (sic) much faith in encryptions,” he wrote, according to the criminal complaint.
Of the 14 men targeted in the 2019 raids, seven are facing federal charges in connection with the kidnapping and criminal conspiracy, and four men are facing criminal charges in state court, according to court records.
One man, 43-year-old William Henderson, was killed on July 11, 2020. Another, 83-year-old William “Curly” Whitney, pleaded guilty to possessing an explosive and received a two-year deferred sentence. The charges against 76-year-old Michael Dire were dismissed, court records show.
Wednesday’s lawsuit is not the first time Ullerich and Hells Angels have sued police over their treatment. Ullerich was part of a group of Hells Angels who sued Denver in 2002 after 18 members of the group were thrown to the ground outside their headquarters and held for hours, even though police discovered no illegal activity. The city apologized and paid $50,000 to settle that lawsuit.
In 2007, Denver and Mountain View police apologized to the motorcycle club again and paid $14,000 after they held eight bikers at rifle-point without probable cause during a traffic stop. Ullerich was also part of that case.
And in September 2020, five Colorado police agencies paid another Hells Angels member $25,000 after a LaSalle police officer joked about shooting the man.
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