A Tennessee lawyer named John P. Cauley, acting on behalf of the American Outlaw Association of Knoxville, served the Knox County District Attorney yesterday with a legal petition demanding the return of property seized during a punitive raid on a New Year’s Eve party almost five years ago.
The case has always exemplified the extent to which American police can unconstitutionally and extrajudicially punish people simply because some cop thinks they should be punished. For the last five years the case has been an open sore on the American ideal of rule by law. If the demands in the petition are not granted, it will be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that might makes right and that the Constitution isn’t worth the paper it is written on.
During what police described as a 14-month-long “undercover Investigation,” a Knox County Deputy named Joseph Neal Linger prospected and attempted to join the Knoxville chapter of the Outlaws. Linger got his job as a deputy as a reward for agreeing to try to infiltrate and get something on the Outlaws. On December 23, 2009, when Linger was discovered to be a policeman, chapter president Kenneth Foster and a club regional officer named Mark Lester stripped Linger of his colors and told him to get lost. Police characterized the seizure of the colors as a “kidnapping” and a “theft.” Eight days later, on New Year’s Eve, Linger applied for search warrants for the Knoxville clubhouse and Foster’s home.
The warrants authorized the seizure of: “Controlled substances and controlled substances paraphernalia, one 2XX leather vest…indicia of ownership, dominion, or control over premises to be searched such as rental receipts, mortgage receipts, mortgage payments, utility bills, photographs of any persons involved in criminal conduct, all financial records pertaining to the disposition of the proceeds of the violation of the criminal laws specified above, and any goods or instruments used to facilitate or constituting proceeds from the violation of the criminal laws specified above, and any evidence or items which would be used to conceal the foregoing or prevent its discovery; together with any Outlaw paraphernalia with insignia, including but not limited to vests, patches, flags, banners, tshirts (sic), and jewelry.”
That night a platoon sized force of militarized police raided the Knoxville clubhouse at 9 p.m. while a New Year’s Eve party was in progress. The raid was clearly intended to be punitive.
It was, according to court documents, “a dynamic raid, using concussion, flash grenades thrown into the midst of the party, without any knocking or first announcing their presence…(and) entered the residence and Club House with great physical force, injuring several” of the party goers who “were all forced to the ground with violence and threats and those that did not get to the ground quickly enough were kicked, stomped and slammed to the ground….” In order to conceal their identities the militarized police wore hoods. After all the revelers were in chains the police continued to point guns at their heads and threatened “to ‘blow their heads off’ if they moved or said anything.”
The cops then proceeded to wreck the place. They “broke furniture, destroyed windows and window frames and smashed in doors with a battering ram after they had already secured entry, when all they had to do was open the unlocked doors.” Cops seized “every item that had any Outlaw Club reference including even gravestone markers of Club members who had died.” And, after putting the partiers in chains the police “took all items of value from the premises” and from individual detainees “such as flat screen TV sets, video equipment, cash money and jewelry.”
Then, just so there was no misunderstanding about who was in charge and who didn’t matter, the cops ate all the food.
Prior to the raid, police “contacted the local television networks and newspaper media and invited them to come to the residence and clubhouse to video tape and report on the raid.” Then police “allowed and encouraged the news media to come inside the residence and photograph the interior of the building and videotape a press conference held inside the residence.”
The next day the Knoxville News Sentinel reported: “The Knox County Sheriff’s Office dropped a different kind of ball on the heads of a notorious motorcycle gang on New Year’s Eve, sending at least two of them to jail for allegedly threatening an undercover officer and stealing his vest last month.
“A SWAT team armed with concussion grenades and assault rifles raided the clubhouse of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club’s Knoxville chapter off Western Avenue,” the News Sentinel continued, “swiftly handcuffing more than a dozen leather-clad bikers and at least two women as they were celebrating with booze, sandwiches and vegetable plates, authorities said.”
“‘These guys are a menace to society,’ said Knox County Sheriff Jimmy ‘J.J.’ Jones. ‘Everything they stand for is illegal.’”
“They’re involved in every illegal activity known to man. Prostitution, methamphetamine,” Jones told local television station WVLT.
The State of Tennessee let Mark Lester sweat it out for a year before dismissing the criminal complaints against him. Four months later the state dismissed all criminal charges against Kenneth Foster. But the state never returned what it stole from the Knoxville clubhouse and from Foster’s home.
What Was Stolen By Police
According to the petition served on the Knoxville DA yesterday: “The Knox County Sheriff’s deputies involved in the search removed everything inside the (club) house and outside of the house that bore the Outlaws club logo, jewelry, lawfully possessed firearms, surveillance equipment, all financial records, thousands of dollars in membership dues, televisions, framed memorabilia, shadow boxes in memory of dead club members, commemorative tombstones, and many other items.”
Police also stole “items bearing the club logo, records of regional dues paid by club members through their chapters, thousands of dollars in regional dues, lawfully possessed prescription medication and other miscellaneous items” from Kenneth Foster’s home.
Apparently nobody knows where all this loot went. Some of it was “turned over to” the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. There has never been a state or federal forfeiture suit filed. There has never been a state or federal accounting of what was seized. The police simply stole it during what could truthfully be described as a home invasion robbery.
Almost two years ago, on September 7, 2012 Sheriff Jones obtained an exparte court order declaring that the stolen property had been abandoned. An exparte order is a kind of secret order that did not require the Sheriff to notify his victims that their stolen property hadn’t really been stolen but rather abandoned because nobody had yet found where he had hidden it.
A lawyer named Mike Whalen got an injunction that November that prevented Jones from destroying what he had stolen.
Twenty months later none of the stolen items have yet been returned.
The petition served on the Knoxville District Attorney yesterday demands “the return of all seized property,” demands that the victims of these home invasions be compensated for the costs of all this avoidable legal action and demands that the victims be awarded unspecified “general relief.”