Prosecutors drop all charges in 2015 Waco biker shootout

On May 15, 2015, a brawl erupted in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant between two biker clubs.  The fighting quickly escalated, and shots rang out.  Club members and innocent bystanders alike were wounded, and when the smoke cleared, nine bikers were dead, four killed by police who were stationed in an adjacent parking lot and fired to protect themselves and others.

More than 100 bikers were indicted on charges ranging from assault to murder.  But after three years, all but 24 defendants had their charges dropped.

Yesterday, local prosecutors gave up and dropped all remaining charges.

Waco Tribune-Herald:

McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson, who announced his decision to dismiss charges Tuesday, said Wednesday he and his staff agonized since he took office in January over how to proceed with the Twin Peaks cases.  Johnson and his top assistants, Tom Needham and Nelson Barnes, were not sold on the rioting charges already filed, could not find sufficient evidence to make murder cases and realized that any other potential charges, such as aggravated assault, were barred by statutes of limitations.

"We have watched those tapes a jillion times, and it is like an ant bed with ants running wild out there," Johnson said.  "It is impossible to tell what is going on, who shot who, who got shot, and there is nothing to tell us definitely who fired the shots that hit the guys who were killed."

Johnson spent much of his day Wednesday answering media questions about his decision to abandon the Twin Peaks cases.  He said it was not an easy call but he believes it was in the best interest of justice and will benefit McLennan County taxpayers in the long-run.

He said his office has the option of filing murder charges in the future if more evidence becomes available.

"It's likely going to take somebody going into a bar, having a few drinks and popping off to some folks that he pulled a gun on an old boy and shot that Cossack, or that Bandido, or whatever," Johnson said.  "But just generally, that is all we've got left as far as making a murder case."

There is video of the shootout, but most of it is not useful in determining who was shooting at whom.  The real problem with the case was the former prosecutor whose incompetence cost the families of the dead any chance at justice.

Reason,com:

From the start, lawyers and others pointed out that it was very unlikely indeed that all the arrested had committed any crimes at all, and that the initial $1 million bond for all of them charged with a blanket crime of "engaging in organized criminal activity" seemed unreasonably punitive.  The police strove in the aftermath to keep a detailed account of what actually happened from reaching the public eye, or that of defense attorneys.

As the years under which those people had criminal charges hanging over their heads went by — with all the problems that come with that on top of the missed work and rent and family responsibilities that bedeviled them from their initial time in custody under that absurd bond — dozens of the arrested went unindicted as grand juries expired, and last year charges began to be dropped against many of the defendants, with not a single successful prosecution having happened yet nearly four years after the mass arrests.

Many of the bikers who had charges eventually dropped have filed civil rights suits against local police and district attorneys over the absurd arrests and incredibly long times to get any of them to trial.

This week the whole case continued its painfully slow unraveling, as three more bikers, the last still facing that first set of indictments, saw their cases dismissed.  A team of special prosecutors eventually assigned to the case declared that the initial mass arrests seemed, in the words of one of them, Brian Roberts, "simply a shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality[.] ... I can't imagine what (former McLennan County DA) Abel Reyna was thinking other than this was a big case  and it was somehow going to be beneficial for him or his office," the Waco Tribune reported.

As an aside, Reyna used the image of one of the defendants in his campaign advertising and was forced to remove it after complaints.

The case was bungled from start to finish, and by the time the current prosecutor got a hold of it, he had to admit defeat and drop the rest of the charges.  The two motorcycle clubs — the Cossacks and Bandidos — weren't known as especially violent groups.  Most of the members held jobs, and many had families.  For many of those who were indicted, their lives were ruined by a prosecutor determined to use the case for political purposes.

Many of the survivors have filed civil rights lawsuits against the county and city, based on the original broadly written charges. Waco attorneys are looking to have those lawsuits dismissed. but have been unsuccessful to date.

Tragedy and farce have dogged this case from the beginning. And now the cause of justice has suffered the consequences.

On May 15, 2015, a brawl erupted in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant between two biker clubs.  The fighting quickly escalated, and shots rang out.  Club members and innocent bystanders alike were wounded, and when the smoke cleared, nine bikers were dead, four killed by police who were stationed in an adjacent parking lot and fired to protect themselves and others.

More than 100 bikers were indicted on charges ranging from assault to murder.  But after three years, all but 24 defendants had their charges dropped.

Yesterday, local prosecutors gave up and dropped all remaining charges.

Waco Tribune-Herald:

McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson, who announced his decision to dismiss charges Tuesday, said Wednesday he and his staff agonized since he took office in January over how to proceed with the Twin Peaks cases.  Johnson and his top assistants, Tom Needham and Nelson Barnes, were not sold on the rioting charges already filed, could not find sufficient evidence to make murder cases and realized that any other potential charges, such as aggravated assault, were barred by statutes of limitations.

"We have watched those tapes a jillion times, and it is like an ant bed with ants running wild out there," Johnson said.  "It is impossible to tell what is going on, who shot who, who got shot, and there is nothing to tell us definitely who fired the shots that hit the guys who were killed."

Johnson spent much of his day Wednesday answering media questions about his decision to abandon the Twin Peaks cases.  He said it was not an easy call but he believes it was in the best interest of justice and will benefit McLennan County taxpayers in the long-run.

He said his office has the option of filing murder charges in the future if more evidence becomes available.

"It's likely going to take somebody going into a bar, having a few drinks and popping off to some folks that he pulled a gun on an old boy and shot that Cossack, or that Bandido, or whatever," Johnson said.  "But just generally, that is all we've got left as far as making a murder case."

There is video of the shootout, but most of it is not useful in determining who was shooting at whom.  The real problem with the case was the former prosecutor whose incompetence cost the families of the dead any chance at justice.

Reason,com:

From the start, lawyers and others pointed out that it was very unlikely indeed that all the arrested had committed any crimes at all, and that the initial $1 million bond for all of them charged with a blanket crime of "engaging in organized criminal activity" seemed unreasonably punitive.  The police strove in the aftermath to keep a detailed account of what actually happened from reaching the public eye, or that of defense attorneys.

As the years under which those people had criminal charges hanging over their heads went by — with all the problems that come with that on top of the missed work and rent and family responsibilities that bedeviled them from their initial time in custody under that absurd bond — dozens of the arrested went unindicted as grand juries expired, and last year charges began to be dropped against many of the defendants, with not a single successful prosecution having happened yet nearly four years after the mass arrests.

Many of the bikers who had charges eventually dropped have filed civil rights suits against local police and district attorneys over the absurd arrests and incredibly long times to get any of them to trial.

This week the whole case continued its painfully slow unraveling, as three more bikers, the last still facing that first set of indictments, saw their cases dismissed.  A team of special prosecutors eventually assigned to the case declared that the initial mass arrests seemed, in the words of one of them, Brian Roberts, "simply a shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality[.] ... I can't imagine what (former McLennan County DA) Abel Reyna was thinking other than this was a big case  and it was somehow going to be beneficial for him or his office," the Waco Tribune reported.

As an aside, Reyna used the image of one of the defendants in his campaign advertising and was forced to remove it after complaints.

The case was bungled from start to finish, and by the time the current prosecutor got a hold of it, he had to admit defeat and drop the rest of the charges.  The two motorcycle clubs — the Cossacks and Bandidos — weren't known as especially violent groups.  Most of the members held jobs, and many had families.  For many of those who were indicted, their lives were ruined by a prosecutor determined to use the case for political purposes.

Many of the survivors have filed civil rights lawsuits against the county and city, based on the original broadly written charges. Waco attorneys are looking to have those lawsuits dismissed. but have been unsuccessful to date.

Tragedy and farce have dogged this case from the beginning. And now the cause of justice has suffered the consequences.