WATSONVILLE -- A 24-year-old Watsonville man is suing Santa Cruz County law enforcement agencies after he was pulled over on his motorcycle and later lost his job because a deputy called his employer.

Kristopher Klay was riding his motorcycle on Highway 1 near Watsonville in May 2013 when he was stopped by members of the Santa Cruz County Gang Task Force.

A South Lake Tahoe firefighter at the time, Klay was wearing a "cut," or leather vest with a patch of the Guerillas Motorcycle Club -- a group that rides together and raises money for youth organizations.

Deputies pulled him over and stopped another rider who was riding with him on a second motorcycle. Authorities asked Klay for his registration, which was current. Klay and the other rider were let go without being ticketed or arrested.

Four weeks later, on about May 30, Sgt. Stefan Fish of the task force called Klay's boss at South Lake Tahoe Fire and told him about the traffic stop, according to court documents.

It's not clear exactly what was said in the phone call, but a few days later, Klay was called in to meet with his fire chief. He was then fired from his job, which was as a probationary firefighter because he recently started.

The police report said Klay was a member of a motorcycle gang and the fire chief used the police report as the basis for his termination, said Klay's attorney, Elisa Stewart of the San Francisco law firm Stewart & Musell, LLP.

Now, Klay is suing the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office, Watsonville police and Fish, which all participate in the Gang Task Force.


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"He's trying to salvage what's left of his reputation," Stewart said of Klay.

"Despite not being arrested, cited or charged with any offense, the law enforcement officers stated in their police report that plaintiff (Klay) was a member of a motorcycle gang and that the detention involved 'gang activity,'" Klay's attorneys wrote.

Jason Heath, an attorney for the Sheriff's Office and Santa Cruz County, said this spring he planned to "vigorously defend the case," but he declined to comment on specific allegations because the case remains in court.

Fish declined to comment on the case Friday because the lawsuit remains in court.

The complaint also states that Fish's call to Klay's employer violated labor law because he was not convicted of a crime. Klay's attorney says Klay was profiled unfairly as a gang member in the stop and the suit asks for an unspecified sum.

Mario Sulay, commander of the Santa Cruz County Gang Task Force, said every time task force members stop a motorcyclist, it's for a legitimate reason.

"Vehicle code violations" could include a broken brake light, an expired registration tag or another problem, Sulay said.

"If it's a violation, it's a violation. It doesn't matter if it's a motorcycle club. We pull people over regardless of group affiliation," he said.

Sulay declined to comment on Klay's case, but he said task force members understand the difference between gangs and clubs. California law essentially defines a gang as three or more people with a common symbol whose main purpose is to commit crimes.

"We don't pull people over unless there's a specific justification to do that," Sulay said.

Deputies stopped Klay and the other motorcycle rider because they questioned whether the other rider had proper motorcycle registration, according to the lawsuit.

Both riders were properly registered.

After Klay was fired, he asked the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office to investigate the call through its Internal Affairs unit. The investigation determined the allegation was "sustained," according to an Aug. 14, 2013 document written by Sheriff Phil Wowak and Sgt. Mitch Medina.

Wowak declined to discuss the case because it is still in court.

The suit was filed in Santa Cruz County Superior Court in November 2013. It's since been transferred to U.S. District Court in San Jose and a case management conference is set for Jan. 15. A trial has tentatively been set for August 2015, according to court records.