As the Texas shootout that killed nine motorcyclists fades from national headlines, local newspapers and a few larger media organizations have broken a series of small stories that prompted one alert Houston Press journalist to predict,“in the coming years, the Waco authorities' handling of the Twin Peaks biker gang shootout will become a textbook example of how not to handle an emergency situation.”
Two weeks later, Waco authorities still aren’t telling how many of the dead bikers were shot by police officers, how many cops fired their weapons, or how many total rounds they discharged.
Yahoo News filed public records requests to try to learn more, but reported last night that Waco authorities have asked state officials for permission to withhold documents.
Police haven’t released any video of the shoot-out to the public.
But a few news outlets have seen footage from one security camera. The New York Daily News sums up part of it: “Most of the leather-clad patrons ran away from the shooting or ducked under tables to dodge violence, video showed. Some bikers tried to direct other people to safety. One camera angle showed people piling into the men’s bathroom for cover. When there was no more room left, the bikers dashed toward the kitchen.” That doesn’t much sound like everyone present was conspiring to fight.
And Brian Doherty argues that the AP’s coverage of the video it saw raises questions about police behavior. “Despite police reports that the fighting and shooting began inside the restaurant and spilled out, closed-circuit footage of the restaurant seen by AP and reports from the restaurateurs indicate the shooting began outside, which is where the police already were,” he writes. “Police were already surrounding the restaurant in force, ready for action. How and why they began firing on the bikers and what happened before then should not necessarily be trusted merely from their mouths.”
No one believes all the bikers were innocent. Indeed, the meager eyewitness testimony that has trickled out suggests some bikers did at least some of the killing.
Still, “more than 150 bikers are still being held in jail weeks after the shooting,” the San Antonio Express News reports. “At least 114 of those remaining in jail have been charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, according to online jail records. Many are being held on $1 million bonds. At least 25 have bonded out in the more than two weeks since being processed, but more are expected to be released on lower bonds.”
Little wonder: holding upwards of 160 bikers on a blanket bond of $1 million was self-evidently excessive. An attorney for one of the arrestees has filed a complaint against the justice of the peace who set the bond, the Waco Tribune reports, alleging that he “violated several judicial ethical canons,” including by telling the local newspaper, “I think it is important to send a message. We had nine people killed in our community. These people just came in, and most of them were from out of town.”
The attorney, Clinton Broden, said that it is unlawful to set bond in order to “send a message” and alleged that law enforcement chose the justice of the peace to set bond “because of his lack of legal training and his willingness to ignore the requirements that each case be given individual consideration.” He also alleged an improper refusal to set probably cause hearings for some of the bikers until August 6.
He’s also filed a civil-rights lawsuit on behalf of one of the bikers, who asserts that as a result of his wrongful jailing his ex-wife is trying to get sole custody of his children:
It was the policy of the City of Waco ... to cause the arrest and detention of numerous individuals belonging to motorcycle clubs who were in or around the Twin Peaks restaurant at the time of the incident, regardless of whether or not there was individualized probable cause to arrest and detain a particular individual and to do so based on ‘fill in the name’ complaints without individualized facts. This policy was carried out repeatedly, and as a result, over 170 people were arrested and detained, with each one of those persons given the identical $1 million bond, with no regard to their individual situation.
Two other arrestees who claim to have been wrongfully jailed told their story to a local TV station. They are a married couple named English. Here’s their version of what happened:
Mr. English said he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. English said he came to Twin Peaks on that Sunday afternoon for a monthly meeting of the Confederation of Clubs to talk about legislation coming out of Austin for Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, but he didn't make that meeting before violence did. "We didn't even get to where we could see around the corner of the building when firing started," said Mr. English. "We heard 2-3 distinct small arm fires, and we took off around to the back side of the building and after that I started hearing rapid succession of assault rifle fire."
"All the sudden I see a sea of people running towards me and we run around the building," said Ms. English. The couple says they never saw the melee, they were just trying to keep stay away from it. Mr. English is a former marine. “He grabs me and pins me up against the wall. He just had me completely shielded and protected,” said Ms. English. “I was trying to hear where the shooters were so we didn't run into the gunfire,” said Mr. English.
After it calmed down, law enforcement stepped in. “There was someone just a couple guys down from me shot in the stomach and we're worried about him but the cops kept saying get down, get down,” aid Ms. English. “You have all these guns in your face, you're gonna listen.”
Maybe Mr. English decided to take his wife, a bank teller, to the Twin Peaks restaurant knowing full well that she’d find herself in the middle of a deadly biker brawl. I would bet against that. They got out of jail after their bail was reduced to $25,000 each.
Soon after the shootout, it became apparent that Waco was ill-prepared to handle the aftermath. And while the mass arrests and sky-high bail ensured that some guilty parties are now sitting in jail, the accompanying innocents that I worried about seem to have suffered too, even if it’s impossible to say with certainty exactly who they are.