Waco Biker Dismissals an Attempt to Avoid Millions in Lawsuits
In the interests of justice, on April 2, 2019 all remaining charges related to the May 17, 2015 Twin Peaks shootings in Waco, Texas have been dismissed by the newly elected McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson. These dismissals are a significant victory in the history of motorcycle club culture and the fight against motorcycle profiling and discrimination. Although this concludes the criminal chapter of Twin Peaks, the legal battles are far from over. There are currently over 100 civil rights claims pending and the oﬃcial press release announcing the dismissals makes it obvious that the new DA is attempting to cover Waco’s interests from a liability standpoint. There is no apology and no admission of wrongdoing related to the mass arrests. Instead, Johnson puts all the blame on former DA Abel Reyna, arguing that viable prosecutions could have occurred after the initial arrests had correct procedures been followed. The stakes are massive. In total, these lawsuits are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for a list of obvious constitutional infringements from false arrest to excessive bail.
A Brief Timeline of Events
It has been nearly 4 years (May 17, 2015) since 9 bikers were killed and 20 injured, many at the hands of law enforcement, after gunfire erupted in the parking lot of a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco preceding a scheduled Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents meeting intended to discuss motorcycle rights issues.
Surrounded by pre-staged law enforcement obviously expecting an issue, the violence erupted after Bandidos MC members from the Dallas area pulled into the Twin Peaks parking lot. A club called the Cossacks, not members of the Texas COC&I, were already there. A verbal altercation ensued quickly followed by pushing, shoving, and then gunshots from every direction, many coming from law enforcement.
After the violence, instead of questioning and releasing witnesses, law enforcement, at the direction of the former McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, used identical generic aﬃdavits and arrested nearly 200 people charging them with Engaging in Organized Crime solely based on their association with a motorcycle club. Every individual was also held on excessive $1-$2 million-dollar bails.
After nearly 2 years, Bandidos MC member Jake Carrizal from Dallas was the first person to be tried. The trial ended in a mistrial and near acquittal after the county spent $1.5 million dollars on its unsuccessful attempt.
The End of Reyna’s Reign.
After the Carrizal trial, the McLennan County DA’s Oﬃcer began to implode culminating in Reyna’s election defeat by a 20% margin largely as a result of the grassroots eﬀorts of Texas motorcyclists that vocally and visibly campaigned against Reyna.
After being defeated, Reyna’s administration dismissed charges against all but 24 individuals. These 24 individuals were then charged with Riot, 3 of them also being charged with murder. The sentence for Riot can be at the level of the most serious crime committed during the riot, which in this case means all 24 charged could have potentially faced life in prison.
Johnson Takes Over.
In January 2019, Barry Johnson became the new McLennan County DA and has publicly stated that he has spent 75% of his time reviewing the Twin Peaks cases. Initially, Johnson stated that most of the 24 cases would be dismissed and a handful of the most viable cases would proceed. On April 2, 2019 the number of viable cases in Johnson’s opinion is zero. It was announced that all charges against all individuals would be dismissed.
Johnson Playing CYA for Waco
Although this is a significant win for those facing charges, Johnson’s statements regarding the dismissals are in no way an apology. Johnson argues that there was reasonable suspicion for the arrest of nearly 200 people and the subsequent grand jury indictments of 154 of those arrested. Johnson is attempting to argue that the arrests were constitutional, despite the generic fill-in-the-blank nature of the aﬃdavit. Johnson further argues that the $1 million-dollar bonds were also reasonable and justified surely in answer to lawsuits charging excessive bail in violation of the 8th Amendment.
Johnson’s statements regarding the dismissals puts 100% of the blame on Reyna’s decision- making post the arrests. Johnson argues that Reyna should have charged individuals with crimes that could be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt such as aggravated assault and attempted murder, charges in which statute of limitations has now run out.
Johnson contends that the Riot charges, even if successful, would unlikely survive an appeal because it was an attempt to charge a misdemeanor as a felony. The likelihood of failure at the appellate level, in Johnson’s assessment, means the only prudent decision was dismissal of all charges.
Johnson is Wrong: Arrests Were False and Bail Was Excessive.
Considering his position, Johnson’s strategy is completely understandable. Johnson feels that dismissal is demanded because of the high likelihood of failure, but that no constitutional violations occurred. No one goes to jail. Waco doesn’t go bankrupt for civil rights violations.
Although understandable, Johnson’s position is incorrect and a clearly veiled political attempt to protect against civil liability. The MPP believes that constitutional violations certainly occurred in terms of the 4th and 8th Amendments. And so do many legal scholars.
There was absolutely no particularized and specific reasonable suspicion or probable cause justifying the arrest of nearly 200 people. Absolutely none. Generic aﬃdavits were used to initiate the arrests. Nothing specific beyond association with a motorcycle club, which does not meet the legal threshold.
It is anyone’s guess how the civil proceedings will ultimately play out. But what is certain is that we will not know for a very long time.