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Member of Outlaws motorcycle club says raid violated his rights

February 1, 2010

Member of Outlaws motorcycle club says raid violated his rights

Man says SWAT team an overreaction

One of the leaders of Knoxville’s chapter of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club says his rights were violated by a New Years Eve raid on the group’s clubhouse and his subsequent arrest.

Mark Lester, 55, who is the regional Outlaws president, said last week the allegations lodged against him and other members of the biker club are false. He also accused the Knox County Sheriff’s Office of overreacting by sending a SWAT team to raid the clubhouse during a sedate holiday party to search for a leather vest.

“They totally destroyed the house, they took everything out of there,” said Lester as he described the Dec. 31 raid in a residential neighborhood off Western Avenue. “They took all our TVs, our microwaves. It was just really crazy stuff. All they found was some alcohol and sandwich platters.”

According to Lester, the most painful loss was that of a group of stone monuments in the clubhouse yard that had been set up to memorialize fallen Outlaws.

“The stones in the front yard for brothers who have died over the last 15 years, they dug those up and took them,” Lester said. “It was just ridiculous.”

Lester and local chapter president Kenneth Foster, 55, have been charged with aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping for a Dec. 23 incident in which they allegedly detained an undercover Sheriff’s Office deputy who had infiltrated the club and stripped him at gunpoint of his leather Outlaws vest, which had been given to him when he became a full-fledged member. Lester and Foster are free on bond.

While the Sheriff’s Office declined to comment last week on the case, an 18-page affidavit filed by the undercover officer, Joseph Linger, shows that police view the Outlaws as a criminal street gang with international ties and a proven propensity for “large-scale violence.” Outlaws chapters have been tied to crimes such as murder, extortion and drug trafficking, Linger wrote, and the Knoxville chapter did more than just flirt with a bad-boy image.

Linger, who at one time worked as a police officer in rural Alaska and was employed at the Sheriff’s Office as a jailer from 2004 to 2005, was working as a bouncer at a Gatlinburg nightclub when he was approached by Lester in August 2008, according to the affidavit.

Over the following months, Linger was gradually brought into the club’s inner circle and allegedly saw Outlaws smoking marijuana, snorting cocaine and carrying weapons, the affidavit says. Linger also recounted several violent anecdotes of the Outlaws’ encounters with other bikers and the public, most of them secondhand.

Linger wrote that one of the men he met – a prospective Outlaw who has not been charged – bragged about having illegal weapons and explosives. That same biker was the only one that Linger accused in the affidavit of actually dealing drugs, and the officer wrote that the man sold him $160 worth of cocaine but an attempt to buy plastic explosives and hand grenades from him didn’t pan out.

Linger said he was supposed to carry weapons and be prepared to fight with other biker clubs. He said that Outlaws were encouraged to obtain permits to legally carry handguns, and Linger said he was “given a list of items that should be carried at all times, including a large knife, for protection.”

The affidavit goes into great detail on the various aspects of the Outlaws’ alleged operations, including factors meant to illustrate that they meet the legal definition of a criminal street gang. Lester, however, maintains the allegations are ridiculous.

“We are not a gang,” he said. “Our club is actually incorporated, so we’re a corporation recognized by the U.S. government. . The sheriff said we’re all criminals, but there’s never been any problems here in Knoxville. We’ve been here for 30 years, and there’s never been any criminal activity.

“When they came in, they found nothing more than a couple of vegetable platters and shrimp cocktails. . We have a right to associate just like everyone else, we have a right to wear patches.”

Lester said Linger was a problematic club member who “caused controversy.” While Lester was vague about providing details when asked what made the other Outlaws distrust Linger, he did say that no armed robbery took place when he and Foster asked Linger to return his club vest.

For one thing, Lester said, vests belong to the club, not to individual members. He said he didn’t understand how he could be charged with robbery when the property didn’t belong to the officer in the first place.

He declined to discuss the incident in further detail under the advice of his attorney, Phil Lamonaco.

“You couldn’t really believe a whole lot of things he was saying,” Lester said. “We’d go on motorcycle runs and bike shows, but he would miss them. Or there were rumors that he was working someplace and then we’d find out he wasn’t. There were a lot of lies. We asked him to go straighten his life out.”

Lester said the Outlaws had no idea that Linger was a police officer until he showed up at the raid wearing a uniform. Lester also said he was disturbed to learn that Linger wasn’t employed as a deputy when they first met.

“This person was a club member first, and then he joined the sheriff’s department because he could not find a job, using our club membership to gain employment,” Lester said.

During the raid, deputies allegedly found small amounts of drugs on three of the partygoers and charged them with misdemeanors. Some firearms were also recovered, but no charges were filed because their owners had handgun permits, according to Foster’s attorney, Mike Whalen.

Whalen said it doesn’t appear that the undercover probe turned up much more than misdemeanors occurring behind closed doors.

“While at the clubhouse (Linger) saw members smoking pot or snorting cocaine,” Whalen said. “I can look out my window on any Saturday in the fall on tailgate parties where there’s more than that going on, and with a larger gang – over 100,000.”

Whalen said the raid was reminiscent of the 1980s, when local police and bikers routinely clashed in Knox County. But the defendants in this case, he said, are gainfully employed and have relatively clean records.

Lester, who works at Aqua-Chem Inc., has only three criminal convictions on his record: an unspecified misdemeanor “public order” crime from 1984, a failure to obey a stop sign citation in 1994 and a reckless driving charge from 1995, records show.

Court records show that Foster’s only criminal convictions were both in 1984, when he was charged with two misdemeanor drug offenses. According to Whalen, Foster drives a bus for senior citizens.

“I think the Sheriff’s Office is still living in the days of old, and from looking at their affidavit they didn’t bother to verify whether those days are over,” Whalen said. “Sheriff (J.J.) Jones talked about murder, white slavery and prostitution at a press conference, but there’s nothing about that in the affidavit. . Somebody might surprise us all, but if this is what they’ve got, it like the Bard said – ‘It’s much ado about nothing.’ ”

Sheriff Jones said he doesn’t want to comment on the case until after the defendants’ preliminary hearings, which are set for Feb. 18.

J.J. Stambaugh may be reached at 865-342-6307.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. JJ is wuss permalink
    February 2, 2010 5:40 am

    Sheriff JJ Jones and his bunch from Knox County Sheriff’s Department are the only real gang in this area. They routinely follow and harass law abiding individuals and when they can’t get the job done they have the city police do it for them (he worked for KPD during his election run against Tim Hutchinson in 2000). Tim Hutchinson who broke state law by running a third term then put his nemisis JJ in power only so that he could put him on a consultant payroll to waste more tax money. JJ has been drunk driving for years, on the tax payers dime. He also likes to have sex with his married employees in return for favors IE: jobs and more money. Now we have Tim Hutchinson running for Mayor here, you want to even imagine the amount of backstabbing, money wasting, criminal activity then put him in office. He will ruin Knox County in a New Yorker minute.

    JJ is nothing but a hillbilly redneck home wrecker who would be nothing more than a third shift jailer if he didn’t go back and kiss Tim’s ass in hopes of being a sheriff, which he can’t do on his own.

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