A Hillsborough County firefighter who is a suspected member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang is wanted in Key West in connection with a September bar fight that involved as many as 15 Outlaws members.
The incident is the latest to draw attention to Florida firefighters who are in biker gangs, an issue that has for months vexed local officials who are hoping for a statewide fix.
The Hillsborough firefighter, Clinton Neal Walker, 33, of Bradenton, is wanted on a misdemeanor battery charge. According to an arrest warrant, Walker and other suspects repeatedly punched John Mafera, manager of the Rumor Lounge in downtown Key West.
A woman told officers the fight started after she got into argument with one of several men wearing shirts and jackets with the "Outlaws" logo, according to a police report.
The men told Mafera the woman should be escorted out of the bar, the report says. When Mafera refused, gang members attacked him.
Mafera and another employee who tried to help him suffered wounds to their eyes and mouths. The bar employees said about 15 Outlaws members were involved.
Mafera later identified Walker in a photo lineup, the arrest warrant states. A Key West police detective also sent a surveillance video of the brawl to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, where a corporal who knew Walker as a firefighter confirmed his identity, the warrant states.
According to the warrant, Walker is a "confirmed active member" of the Outlaws, considered by authorities to be the state's dominant motorcycle gang. It is strongest in South Florida but has chapters in Tampa and St. Petersburg.
According to the FBI, the Outlaws use their clubs as conduits for crime, including weapons and drug trafficking.
Walker and another Hillsborough County firefighter were identified as members of the Outlaws gang in May in a WFTS-Ch. 28 report. The story also identified a Pasco County firefighter as a member the Pagans motorcycle gang.
After the report, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones and County Administrator Mike Merrill began discussing whether to limit affiliation in such organizations.
In August, Jones told the Tampa Bay Times there were numerous legal considerations.
"There's a very fine line between individual rights and rights of affiliation and constitutional rights," Jones said at the time.
Jones said Thursday those conversations are on hold while they wait to see if the Florida State Fire Marshal asks lawmakers in Tallahassee to address the issue.
"This is a broad issue that impacts fire departments across Florida," Jones said. "Once revised statewide standards are set, Hillsborough County will not only follow these guidelines, but we will add additional requirements ... as warranted to further ensure the safety of our residents and firefighters."
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The Florida Firefighters Employment Standards and Training Council wrote the State Fire Marshal in July with a proposal to disqualify from employment firefighters with "gang affiliations or known terrorist group affiliations."
Late Thursday, a Fire Marshal's spokesman said there are currently no plans to make such changes.
Hillsborough fire officials learned of Walker's warrant Wednesday, said department spokesman Corey Dierdorff. He will be placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
"We take accusations like this very seriously," Dierdorff said.
Walker's attorney, Jerry Theophilopoulos, did not return a call for comment Thursday.
It's the second time this year Walker has been arrested in connection with a bar fight. He was charged with felony battery on a law enforcement officer in June after an altercation with a St. Petersburg police officer. The charge was later dropped after questions arose about whether the officer used excessive force.
Senior researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.