Four months after a shootout left 9 bikers dead at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, prompting the arrest of 177 people, many of them presumably innocent, authorities are still denying the public access to key pieces of evidence, including video. The legal fate of arrestees still hangs in the balance. And it still isn’t known how many of the dead bikers were killed by bullets that police officers fired.
But police bullets did hit some of the bikers, the Associated Press reports after reviewing 8,800 pages of evidence apparently leaked to the news organization. “The gunfire included rounds fired by police that hit bikers, though it isn't clear whether those rifle shots caused any of the fatalities,” Emily Schmall reports. “Investigators have offered scant details about what sparked the fight or how the gunfire played out, and no one has been charged.” 18 bikers were wounded but survived the melee.
Lawyers in the case have seen “dashboard video of people fleeing the scene while shots ring out, audio of police threatening to shoot people if they rise from the ground and photos of bodies lying in pools of blood in the restaurant parking lot,” AP adds. But neither police nor defense attorneys are talking about the evidence due to a broad gag order that a coalition of media organizations is challenging as unconstitutional. It was imposed by a judge who is a former law partner of the local district attorney.
The foreman of the grand jury that will decide who to indict is a Waco detective.
“The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals could go a long way toward airing out this story by nullifying the gag order,” the Dallas Morning News editorialized last week. “It’s unclear how soon it will rule on that request. With so much suspicion permeating this case, the court would be wise to take the side of much-needed transparency.”
As Patrick Metze, a Texas Tech law school professor, told the Houston Chronicle, "Any time a prosecutor's office does not want people talking about something, one should raise a red flag. They may say it is to protect the investigation, but they are protecting themselves from whatever it is that they don't want us to see or know about."
In addition to the most pressing question––how many of the bikers were killed by government-issued lead––it would be useful to know what role, if any, local authorities or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a bureaucracy with a stunning recent history of misconduct, played in provoking the fight. It would also be salubrious to hear the stories of the bikers themselves. At present, scores of people who did nothing wrong, but live under threat of prosecution for murder, are unable to share their experiences with the greater public.
The authorities have gagged them at their moment of greatest need.
If it turns out that some of the bikers in Waco died from police bullets, authorities will have shot people dead, arrested all the witnesses, and prohibited them from speaking out under penalty of contempt. It’s long past time for state overseers to step in.
The local justice system in Waco is a farce.