OFF THE WIRE
A federal magistrate judge said there were too many unanswered questions Thursday to determine whether he should order law enforcement to return property seized during a 2009 raid of a Knoxville motorcycle club's headquarters.
U.S. Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley postponed making a decision on the matter because he said the Knox County Sheriff's Office property receipt list of items taken during the clubhouse raid wasn't legible. He also said it wasn't clear which members and associates were claiming what from that list.
Shirley instructed attorneys involved in a civil lawsuit between the parties to submit a legible and specific list and set a Dec. 1 hearing in hopes of resolving the matter.
The confusion stemmed from a motion filed by attorney Phil Lomonaco on behalf of the Outlaw Motorcycle Club Inc., its officers and members to get property back taken during a 2009 New Year's Eve raid of the group's clubhouse at 205 Clifton Road. The motion is part of a $6 million federal civil-rights lawsuit filed in May 2010 that alleges abusive tactics on the part of authorities and lists a slew of alleged constitutional violations.
Named as defendants are both Knox County and the city of Knoxville; Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones, whose agency launched the raid; Police Chief Sterling P. Owen IV; and any officers who participated in the raid.
In the lawsuit, Lomonaco said authorities, "broke furniture, destroyed windows smashed in (unlocked) doors with a battering ram." He accused deputies of taking grave markers of Outlaws members who had died, as well as "all items of value," including a flat-screen TV sets, video equipment, cash and jewelry.
On Thursday, Lomonaco showed Shirley pictures of memorabilia and photographs of past members that were "ripped from the walls" during the raid.
"It was crystal clear the Sheriff's Department wanted to strip the club of all insignias and items to show they were members of the club," he said. "They had no authority to do so. We ask the court to direct the defendants to return the property."
Attorney Jerome Melson, who is representing a handful of sheriff's officers, disagreed, saying the Outlaws are no longer a legal entity and are not entitled to the property.
"We intend to show the property is (indicative) of a criminal enterprise," Melson said.
In the end, Shirley said he needed "a specific demand for specific property" before he could take up whether the Outlaws have "a right to get their property back."
Sheriff's Department attorney Gary Prince agreed with the judge that the list was illegible and said he'd have a new list made.