WOODLAND — Few people were in the audience for Jason Sigur’s trial. The Dunnigan man, whose October 2010 arrest on child-molest charges garnered high-profile headlines, had since flown under the radar.
But not for the members of Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA), whose members were present at each day of Sigur’s two-week trial in Yolo Superior Court — including the nearly two full days the 14-year-old victim spent on the witness stand.
“We’re here to empower the children,” said Lee “Radar” Popejoy, president of BACA’s Feather River chapter, which includes Yolo County.
Founded in 1996, BACA today has chapters in 37 states, as well as in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Italy and the Netherlands.
Its founder, John Paul “Chief” Lilly, is an avid biker and a licensed clinical social worker who has spent some two decades treating abused children. He felt that while courts offered measures for children to heal from physical, sexual and emotional abuse, there were shortcomings when it came to empowering kids and keeping them safe.
“BACA works hand in hand with any child that comes in,” said Kim McHaffie, the Feather River chapter’s child liaison, who goes by the road name “Bossy.” “We’ll go anywhere we’re needed.”
Referred by district attorney’s offices, police departments and social workers, abused children are “adopted” by BACA members, who provide ongoing support to the children and their families by providing escorts, attending court and parole hearings, riding by the children’s homes to discourage harassment by abusers, or simply staying with a child who feels frightened or alone.
“We are an organization. We are not a motorcycle club,” Bossy said. But she noted that the biker community “as a whole, they care about kids, and kids love them.”
Children, families empowered
On one recent May evening, members of BACA’s Feather River chapter gathered at the Iron Gate motorcycle shop on Woodland’s Main Street for the group’s monthly meeting. Most were clad in BACA vests bearing the organization’s red, white and black patch and the phrase, “No child should live in fear.”
The patch’s colors and symbols each carry their own significance.
White represents the innocence of the children. Red symbolizes the blood of the children that has been spilled. A fist signifies BACA’s opposition to child abuse, while a skull and crossbones are a warning to the child’s abuser. Chains represent the chain of abuse being broken.
Topics of discussion at the May meeting included a backpack and school-supply drive being planned for the summer, with the goal of collecting gear for about 70 kids. The group also discussed plans for a massive bike ride in memory of child victims who didn’t survive their abuse.
One member gave updates on recent court cases, including Sigur’s and that of Michael Martinez, a West Sacramento man convicted of 52 counts of abusing a 7-year-old girl. Martinez is scheduled to be sentenced June 25 in Yolo Superior Court.
“BACA is an amazing group, because they not only give the child support, they give the family support as well,” said Carol — who asked that her real name be withheld — the guardian for Martinez’s victim. “She sees there’s an entire family watching out for her.”
At one recent court hearing, relatives of a young boy allegedly molested by Esparto foster parent and youth soccer coach Cristan Rooms approached BACA members to thank them for their attention to the case.
Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin, who prosecuted the Sigur case, said the victims seem to appreciate the presence of BACA members, who typically sit within the child’s line of sight from the witness stand.
“In my experience, BACA members are very supportive of victims and respectful to the court,” Serafin said. Sigur, found guilty of multiple kidnapping, sexual assault and child-molestation charges, is due for sentencing on June 22.
The Feather River chapter has about 35 members, 18 of whom are fully “patched,” Bossy said — meaning they have passed a rigorous background check and served as a supporter for one year, during which they’re required to participate in at least 80 percent of BACA’s meetings and functions. They also must own, or at least have regular access to, a motorcycle.
Their behavior around the children is closely monitored, with no alcohol, no drugs and no cursing allowed.
“You have to be able to focus on the kids — they’re primary,” Bossy said.
BACA also opposes the use of violence or physical force, but “if circumstances arise such that we are the only obstacle preventing a child from further abuse, we stand ready to be that obstacle,” the organization’s website says.
Mary and her five children — ages 7 to 16 —suffered through years of physical and verbal abuse before she finally sought help.
A social worker referred Mary to BACA. She called the hotline, and within an hour several of its members were on her doorstep.
“At first I was very nervous,” Mary said of the initial meeting. “As soon as I met with them, I knew I was meant to be there with them. The kids, I felt, were automatically drawn to them.”
The BACA members stayed with Mary’s family for four days straight. Each child picked out their own road name and received their own vests, which Mary said they wear daily — even to school — and sleep with at night.
“It made other kids in the apartment complex feel safe also,” Mary said.
Months later, the family and BACA remain in regular contact.
“They call me, they text me, we stay in constant communication,” Mary said. “Having them involved, it made it easier for me to leave.”
BACA’s kids never age out, Bossy said. They remain connected for years, and BACA members have performed marriage ceremonies for the youths they once watched over. Some of the kids grow up to become BACA members themselves.
“How I wish BACA was around when we were going through that,” said Bossy, whose own son was a victim of abuse. “We are breaking the chain, breaking the cycle.”
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8048. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkeene