Adding a dress code into the county code is being eyed by Walla Walla County commissioners.

According to county Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jesse Nolte, the new ordinance would formalize a long-standing policy that prohibits gang attire or other identifiers at the annual county fair or other county-sponsored events.

The proposal comes on the heels of a federal lawsuit filed in June by two College Place residents who were told at last year’s fair to turn their T-shirts inside out or leave because their shirts had a motorcycle club emblem on them.

Commissioners Jim Johnson, Jim Duncan and Perry Dozier were updated on the progress of the proposed new code by Nolte during the commissioners’ regular meeting last week.

Nolte told commissioners the current policy prohibiting gang attire or symbols at the fair apparently dates from an order issued in the 1990s by then-Walla Walla County Sheriff Bill Jackson.

That order said “basically no gang attire, no gang displays,” Nolte said.

Formalizing the policy into a county ordinance “that has some standards and procedures as to how we determine what gang attire is” would be a good idea, he added.

A public hearing to take comments on the proposed dress code is set for 11:15 a.m. on Aug. 22 during that day’s regular commissioners’ meeting.

Nolte told commissioners the procedure to draw up the ordinance will involve having the Sheriff’s Office provide input on the active gangs in the area as defined by state statute RCW 9.94.030.

“We’re trying to limit what we’re dealing with to what is defined by statute as criminal street gangs,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office will then come up with list of gangs and identifiers, with a “category 1 identifier” being an obvious patch or emblem and a “category 2 identifier” being a “lesser emblem, color or number,” Nolte said. The proposed ordinance would then specify the type and number of identifiers that would lead to action on the part of a law enforcement officer.

“So we’re just trying to formalize what has been the practice at the fair and try to do it in a proper fashion,” Nolte said.

However an audience member at the meeting, Walla Walla resident Dorothy Knudson, raised a question about identifying marks.

“I was at a store once and a man had a great, big ‘18’ tattooed on his head and around his neck,” she said. “Would he be allowed to come in? Because he obviously he is not going to be able to go home and take that off.”

“The policy is if you can cover it up or turn it inside out, you’re fine,” Nolte said. “But if you insist on wearing it or displaying it, you’re going to be asked to leave. And I think that’s been the case since the ’90s.”

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

Andy Porter has been with the Union-Bulletin since October 2000. His beats include Walla Walla County, city of College Place, Washington State Penitentiary, agriculture, environment as well as a wide range of general assignment topics.

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