November 29, 2022

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Highlands chief key in arrest of bike club member

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Members and associates of the Mongols Motorcycle Club converged on the patio of a popular Las Vegas, New Mexico, hotel and saloon the evening of Oct. 23, unaware that they were under surveillance by local authorities intending to arrest two men on felony warrants.

As it turns out, their choice of seating led to the arrest of a third Mongol purported to be the organizer of a new Las Vegas club chapter.

Shawn Norton

Sitting behind the group at the Byron T’s Saloon in the historic Plaza Hotel with his wife was the off-duty Chief of Police of Highlands University Clarence Romero. He ended up becoming a key witness in the subsequent federal case against Shawn Michael Norton, 49, on a charge of felon in possession of a firearm.

Romero watched as other law enforcement officers closed in on the motorcycle club group, and saw Norton stand up with his hands in air and step in front of his girlfriend. She was still seated and quickly removed an object from the small of Norton’s back, dropping it into her purse, according to a federal search warrant affidavit.

After Romero alerted the arresting officers about what he had seen, investigators retrieved a Ruger 9 mm pistol from the black purse of Aundrea Perez, who was arrested with Norton on state charges of unlawful carrying of a firearm in a liquor establishment.

No weapon was found on Norton, but he was later arrested on a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

At a federal detention hearing Tuesday in Albuquerque, Norton’s attorney Melissa Morris said her client hadn’t been in New Mexico long, but wasn’t dangerous and had a steady job.

However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing noted his prior convictions for escaping from jail and ordered him held in federal custody pending trial.

Norton has at least six prior felony convictions out of Arizona and Nevada, and, as a convicted felon, is not permitted by law to possess a firearm or ammunition.

An FBI task force last year obtained search and arrest warrants for several Mongol Motorcycle Club members in Albuquerque as part of a racketeering investigation. Federal investigators believe the group is an outlaw motorcycle gang engaged in criminal activity and uses violence or intimidation to further its criminal objectives.

Norton is a validated member of the motorcycle club and the organization is believed to be launching a chapter in Las Vegas, with law enforcement sources suspecting that Norton is the organizer of the new chapter, according to the federal affidavit.

Romero couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, but FBI Special Agent Bryan Acee testified at the detention hearing Tuesday that the police chief and his wife had been seated in a booth directly behind and slightly elevated above the motorcycle club group, and “were surprised to see them (the motorcycle club members and associates).”

“They were very concerned about the group and were even thinking of leaving the restaurant,” Acee testified.

Romero, who has over 30 years in law enforcement, watched as members of the Las Vegas Police Department and District Attorney’s office directed the motorcycle club group to place their hands in the air and get on the ground. One of the group, Mark Montoya, reportedly told arresting officers, “You’re lucky I don’t shoot you right now.” Montoya was later found to have a loaded pistol and two knives in his waistband, the FBI affidavit stated.

Romero then noticed how the handgun ended up with Norton’s girlfriend.

“It was a quick move,” Acee testified, adding that the transfer was so fast it appeared as if the two had practiced beforehand.

Eight people were arrested that night, including Montoya and Gilbert Lucero, both of whom had outstanding arrest warrants for aggravated assault with firearms and conspiracy, the affidavit stated.

The bust occurred at a saloon and restaurant inside the historic Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas. The hotel, erected in 1882, at one time hosted registered guests that included Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday, according to a travel website.