In May of 2015, nine people were shot to death in a wild exchange of gunfire outside the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas. What came to be known as the Waco biker shootout, morphed from a battle between lawless rival biker gangs to a massacre in which, according to the evidence, many of the dead had been shot by local police. That, after a judge’s gag order and ballistics tests that were initially suppressed by local law enforcement.
For an idea of the confusion and misinformation that was issued in the aftermath, read this AP report from September of 2015.
That was written four months after the shooting.
Following the shooting, 177 people were arrested and held for days or weeks on $1 million bonds on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity. But no one has been indicted, and it remains unclear whose bullets struck the dead and wounded.
It’s also unclear when cases will be presented to a grand jury. Bikers were taken to the Waco convention center for processing after the shootout and were told on the way that they were going to be interviewed as witnesses, according to a 430-page Texas Department of Public Safety report that corroborates what arrested bikers have told AP.
But prosecutors decided late that night to arrest the majority of those detained.
The local prosecutor at the time, District Attorney Abel Reyna, reportedly made a hash of the criminal cases. Special prosecutors were appointed to handle some of them. As the Waco Tribune-Herald reports,
The special prosecutors appointed to handle four cases in which Reyna recused his office dismissed those cases by early this year. One of the prosecutors called Reyna’s mass prosecution strategy a “harebrained scheme” that was “patently offensive.”
As time passed, the case went from “one of the biggest criminal prosecutions in state history” to this week’s news that, after all this time, the current McLennan County DA, Barry Johnson, has announced that no one will be prosecuted.
Former McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna sought indictments against 155 bikers on those identical charges and chose to try Jacob Carrizal, the Bandidos Dallas County chapter president, first.
Carrizal’s case, tried in Waco’s 54th State District Court, ended in mistrial in November 2017, with most of the jurors in his case favoring acquittal. No other defendant has been tried since.
Johnson’s campaign hammered Reyna for his handling of the Twin Peaks cases, and he won the March 2018 Republican primary by 20 percentage points. After the primary, Reyna dismissed all but 24 of the remaining Twin Peaks cases.
Johnson seems to have thrown up his hands and decided to walk away from the debacle to “end this nightmare that we have been dealing with in this county since May 17, 2015.”
Here’s the AP’s report . . .
WACO, Texas (AP) — No one will be convicted or otherwise held accountable for the 2015 shootout between rival biker gangs in Waco restaurant parking lot that left nine people dead and at least 20 injured, prosecutors in Central Texas said Tuesday.
In a statement announcing all charges will be dropped in the deadliest biker shooting in U.S. history, McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson said any further effort to prosecute the case would be a “waste of time, effort and resources.”
“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,” Johnson said. “Over the next three years the prior district attorney failed to take that action, for reasons that I do not know to this day.”
The shooting outside a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco on May 17, 2015, involved rival biker gangs, the Bandidos and Cossacks, and occurred as bikers from various groups were gathering to talk over matters of concern. Fights and gunfire broke out. Waco police officers monitoring the gathering also fired on the bikers, killing at least two.
Surveillance footage showed many bikers running from the scene and ducking for cover after gunshots rang out. A smaller number could be seen pointing and firing weapons, slinging a chain or participating in fistfights. Law enforcement officers recovered dozens of firearms, knives and other weapons from the restaurant and adjacent parking lot, many of which officers organized indiscriminately into piles on the pavement and in the back of a police vehicle, dash-cam video showed.
Law enforcement officials took the extraordinary step of arresting 177 bikers after the shooting, then charged 155 of them with engaging in organized criminal activity. Many were held on a $1 million bond.
Former District Attorney Abel Reyna ultimately dropped charges against all but 24 and re-indicted them on riot charges. Those were the cases that came to an end Tuesday.
Only one case was prosecuted in court and that ended in a mistrial.
More than 100 bikers have filed civil rights lawsuits alleging McLennan County, the city and others violated the plaintiffs’ civil rights by arresting them without probable cause after the shooting,
“It’s a travesty that so many people were rounded up and then investigated, instead of vice versa,” Mark Snodgrass, president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said Tuesday. “A lot of these people’s lives were put on hold for four years.”
In a statement, Reyna said he disagrees “with the overall result as well as several statements and accusations within Mr. Johnson’s press release; however, it is solely his decision on how to proceed with any case in the District Attorney’s Office.”