JASPER, Tenn. — City leaders and local law enforcement officers are trying to stop a growing problem across Marion County before it finds its way to Jasper.
Police Chief Tim Graham said his department learned about a "private party" two weeks ago at a local bar called The Lunchbox along U.S. Highway 41.
"From what we gathered, there were supposed to be some pretty bad people there, so we worked them pretty hard Saturday night," he said.
Graham and almost all of his officers showed up at the site before the party began and told the owners of the bar that no private parties would be allowed.
"I don't think we overkilled, but we went and showed a force," he said.
Alderman Paul West, who is also a police officer in South Pittsburg, Tenn., said the private party was organized by a group that has become notorious around the county.
"This crowd has been all over the county," he said. "Every time they held a party, it turned into a huge fight with weapons, violence, and cuttings."
The group's parties originated in South Pittsburg at the old armory building, West said, and then moved to the town's American Legion Hall.
At one party there, he said, South Pittsburg police confiscated four guns that had been dropped on the floor when officers entered the building.
"The way they operate is they put this stuff on Facebook," West said. "They come in here from Atlanta, Nashville, Knoxville, Birmingham, Anniston, and Huntsville. A lot of these guys who come in here are real gang members. They're not the local wanna-bes."
Those gang members are "always armed," he said, and the parties "always turn into violence."
Graham said he told The Lunchbox's owners that the bar must be operated "a certain way" and "the way it's supposed to be run."
Those same rules hold for all of the bars in Jasper, he said.
"I don't want to put them out of business," Graham said. "We checked all the bars that night. We didn't just pick on that one."
Officials said the staff at The Lunchbox are "well aware of what could take place," even though they thought they could host the party originally.
"It has been nipped in the bud because we are not going to tolerate it," Mayor Paul Evans said.
West commended Graham and his officers for putting a stop to the party before it started.
"They're a fast-growing cancer if it's not controlled," he said. "You can't overkill that bunch. They've worn their welcome out in South Pittsburg, so now they're trying to find some other place."
Alderman Leon Rash recommended revoking The Lunchbox's beer license if a similar incident occurred again.
"I don't think we should tolerate that from anybody, from anywhere," he said. "It's gang activity from out of town, and we do not need it in our town."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.