Waco Tribune-Herald – “Almost four years after nine bikers were killed and 20 were injured during a shootout at the former Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson said Tuesday he will dismiss all criminal cases against the remaining 24 defendants charged in the midday brawl.”
Some background on the shootout.
On May 17, 2015, motorcycle clubs, including such ones known as the Bandidos and the Cossacks along with several others were meeting at the local Twin Peaks Bar & Grill for what they called a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss political rights for motorcyclists when a shoot out broke out between possible rivals within the clubs and the Waco Police Department along with a SWAT team who had been staked outside the Twin Peaks leaving 9 dead and 20 injured.
According to an unclassified Texas Gang Threat Assessment report that had been released a year before in April 2014, the Bandidos had been categorized by the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS) “as a “Tier 2” threat, the same rating as the Crips or Bloods and Aryan Brotherhood, but did not evaluate the Cossacks,” concluding in their assessment that the club “conducts their illegal activities as covertly as possible, and avoids high-profile activities such as drive-by shootings that many street gangs tend to commit.”
According to Steve Cook, executive director of the Midwest Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association, an element of the dispute had to do with the right of Texas outlaw motorcycle clubs to wear jackets decorated with distinctive patches, including a geographic bottom rocker reading “Texas”, indicating Texas as the territory of the club. The dominant Bandidos claimed the right to approve all such jacket bottom rocker patches.
A police affidavit released June 16 described the source of the conflict in similar terms. Following the shootout, police spokesman Patrick Swanton said a turf war between the rival clubs is a factor in the deadly encounter. It allegedly started following the beating of a Cossack by Bandidos at a Toys for Tots event in Decatur, Texas on December 6, 2014, and the killing of a member of the Ghostriders MC the next week in Fort Worth. Skirmishes over the issue continued on March 22, 2015. A police affidavit described fighting between Bandidos and Cossacks going back to November 2013, including brawls resulting in injuries, in Abilene, Palo Pinto County, and Lorena, Texas. Some of those previously-injured bikers were arrested in Waco after the shootout on May 17.
On May 1, 2015, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued an advisory statement to police: “The conflict may stem from Cossacks members refusing to pay Bandidos dues for operating in Texas and for claiming Texas as their territory by wearing the Texas bottom rocker on their vests, or ‘cuts.'”Wikipedia – Waco Shootout
After the dust settled on the midday Texas shootout brawl, 177 were arrested and $1 million bail set for each.
Bikers banned together, protesting the high bail amounts, the lack of transparency of the evidence and lack of forthrightness about whether or not some of the dead and injured were caused by law enforcement, controversy and criticism continued to swirl around town against local law enforcement for “jailing so many individuals using fill-in-the-blank paperwork that didn’t differentiate among the jailed” as many of the bikers continued to proclaim their innocence, The Atlantic reported in December 2015.
A McClellan County grand jury was convened to decide if then DA Abel Reyan “had presented enough evidence to justify indictments.”
Still, the November grand jury session returned 106 indictments at the end of one day, some against unknown figures who hadn’t previously been arrested. And the citizen jurors would reconvene at a later date to consider the fate of 80 additional bikers. This, despite the fact that leaked surveillance footage certainly seems to depict many bikers who look surprised that bullets are flying and unprepared for a gunfight, not as if they were conspiring to murder a bunch of their rivals.The Atlantic; 22 December 2015
Fast forward to present.
On Tuesday, District Attorney Barry Johnson, who took office in January and took over the Twin Peaks cases, said “he has spent 75 percent of his time since then with a team of prosecutors and investigators trying to determine how to resolve the remaining cases.”
Johnson’s decision Tuesday means that no one will be held accountable for the multiple deaths or injuries or for the chaotic battle between heavily armed, rival motorcycle clubs waged in a crowded shopping center parking lot while families were on their way to lunch after Sunday church.
In announcing his decision, Johnson said it is time to “end this nightmare that we have been dealing with in this county since May 17, 2015.”
“There were nine people who were killed on that fateful day in Waco, Texas, and 20 injured, all of whom were members of rival motorcycle clubs/gangs, and the loss of life is a difficult thing,” Johnson said. “But after looking over the 24 cases we were left with, it is my opinion as your district attorney that we are not able to prosecute any of those cases and reach our burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Johnson, a Republican, primaried former McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna last March making the Twin Peaks incident a “centerpiece of his campaign” and criticism against Reyan’s handling of the cases, went on to win the November general election and continues with his criticism of Reyna’s handling of it all.
“Following the indictments, the prior district attorney had the time and opportunity to review and assess the admissible evidence to determine the full range of charges that could be brought against each individual who participated in the Twin Peaks brawl, and to charge only those offenses where the admissible evidence would support a verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Johnson said in a statement.
“In my opinion, had this action been taken in a timely manner, it would have, and should have, resulted in numerous convictions and prison sentences against many of those who participated in the Twin Peaks brawl. Over the next three years the prior district attorney failed to take that action, for reasons that I do not know to this day,” he said.
While all criminal charges have been dismissed, “more than 130 of the bikers have civil rights lawsuits pending against Reyna, former Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman, the city of Waco, McLennan County and individual local and state officers who were involved in the arrests.”
In a statement, Don Tittle, a Dallas lawyer who represents 120 of those bikers’ civil lawsuits said, “Maybe if law enforcement had stuck with the original plan to focus on individuals who might have been involved in the violence and let the rest of the motorcyclists go after being interviewed, things would have gone differently … It’s hard to imagine that turning the operation into a dragnet wasn’t a major distraction for the investigation, not to mention a public that grew increasingly skeptical as this thing played out. All this for an ill-advised attempt to prove an imaginary conspiracy theory, which to this day there’s not a shred of evidence to support.”
For full content and context read Waco Tribune-Herald.
On A Side Note (Opinion)
Read The Atlantic piece, you’ll start to get an idea how out of control this thing got and how they probably now got to the conclusion they came to, going so far as getting the number of dead bodies wrong then calling it a “clerical” and a “minor” error. As the guy writes at that time, “These people are entrusted with charging murders in a state with the death penalty.”