After reviewing more than 8,800 pages of evidence including police reports, dash-cam videos, photos and audio interviews related to the Waco, Texas shooting that left nine dead and 18 injured four months ago, the Associated Press has determined that gunfire sustained by bikers included rounds fired by police.
Officials have released almost no information about the biker event that occurred at a Twin Peaks restaurant on May 17, but police have said that after a disturbance in the parking lot, a fight began in the restaurant’s bathroom that quickly escalated into an armed brawl and shootout after one group of bikers showed up uninvited.
The truth of the matter is unclear however, and gag orders have been imposed prohibiting the release of surveillance footage that could shed some light on the incident – like who fired fatal shots. Police have not said, and the AP says it does not yet have a clear picture of what transpired either.
Despite the immediate and sweeping characterization by media and police that the gathering was a congregation of violent criminals, the meeting was actually a legitimate and organized group of motorcycle riders meeting to discuss political issues.
According to the website of the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents – the group that organized the event – the gathering was a scheduled part of the 30th Annual National Coalition of Motorcyclists. Police maintain however, that the event was a gathering of five violent motorcycle gangs who had met at the restaurant to settle differences over turf and recruitment.
“They were not [t]here to drink and eat barbecue,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said. “They came here with violence in mind.”
Police claim they received tips about impending violence at the event. Of the affiliated groups in attendance including the Christian Ministries, and the Veterans Club. One of the bikers killed was 68-year-old Jesus Delgado Rodriquez, a purple heart recipient.
Eyewitness reports have painted a different picture of the incident than what has been presented by police.
Founder of the Waco chapter of the Sons of the South, and official with the U.S. Defenders Task Force, a legislative group affiliated with the Texas Confederacy of Clubs and Independents, Steve Cochran said he arrived at Twin Peaks to set up a sound system for the meeting, only to find that the violence already had started.
Cochran blamed the melee on the Cossacks and not the Bandidos, which were mercilessly demonized in the media.
“Bandidos members were to be part of the meeting, which was to focus on legislative issues common to all bikers,” Cochran said. “These meetings have gone on for 20 years, and we’ve gone all these years without a single incident.”
Cochran added that police gave no indication to him or other attendees that their lives might be in danger.
Twin Peaks security footage, shared by the establishment with the Associated Press – who did not release it to the public – shows that just one of the dozens of bikers inside the restaurant shootout fired a gun.
The AP said of the nine surveillance video angles released to them, none showed the parking lot, where police claim the incident began after one biker had his foot run over. Instead, the video shows bikers running away from the shooting or ducking under tables, the AP says, presumably to dodge incoming gunfire from police outside.
Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman said three officers fired a total of 12 shots, but police have never said whether those bullets struck anyone. Officer George Vrail, who was assigned to a special detail to cover the meeting wrote in the incident report however, that he saw two officers during the shootout who “had multiple suspects down on the ground.”
The officers reportedly told him they had “struck multiple suspects with their patrol rifles,” after being “engaged” as they got out of their patrol car. Additionally, officer Keith Vaughn wrote that another officer told him he fired one round “to stop [an] individual” that was shooting into the crowd.
Police and prosecutors have claimed that video footage exists showing Bandidos and Cossacks shooting at one another but the AP says video it has reviewed doesn’t clearly show who is shooting at whom.
Police have said that minus those killed or injured – out of about 200+ people in attendance at the event – only three were not arrested. Detainees were each given a $1 million bond.
A review of court records by the Associated Press found in May, that at least 115 of 170 bikers arrested had no criminal records – about 68 percent. That may seem low but stats from the National Employment Law Project show that at least 65 million Americans have criminal records – about 20 percent of the population.
Lawyers for some of those arrested say their clients – including military veterans, municipal employees and a man who says he doesn’t even own a motorcycle – were bystanders who played no role in the violence, but were nonetheless forced to spend weeks behind bars.
“You don’t throw everyone in jail and sort it all out later,” former Texas judge who represents several of the bikers, Susan Criss said. At the end of June, all but six of the 177 people arrested had been released.
A lawsuit filed against Twin Peaks by the neighboring restaurant Don Carlos claimed the police fired “thousands of rounds” toward the bikers, striking not only bike club members but also Don Carlos customer vehicles.
Also, small business owner Matthew Alan Clendennen is suing the city of Waco and McLennan County, claiming in a federal case that he lost income and suffered damage to his reputation because of his wrongful arrest.
“Why is there not some resemblance of justice here for the innocent?” Clendennen asked. “I was nothing more than a witness that day [and] I didn’t even really witness anything. Getting locked up like that, the whole thing was a shock.”
In June, District Judge Matt Johnson imposed a gag order in the case prohibiting the release of video surveillance footage from Don Carlos to the public Clendennen believes could exonerate him.
Clendennen says he isn’t a gang member, but belongs to the Scimitars motorcycle club. “We are just guys that like to ride motorcycles and get together,” he said, adding that the group has many charitable causes.
Johnson said in a statement that pretrial publicity could not be allowed to influence potential jurors, and alleged Clendennen “decided to go on a fishing expedition for non-party’s surveillance footage and is threatening the non-party with orders of contempt and arrest.”
Court documents also stated that Clendennen’s request was “overbroad as it will unduly burden the non-party from reviewing hundreds of hours of surveillance footage from 16 different positions in order to comply.”
The surveillance footage is no longer in Don Carlos‘ possession due to the ongoing investigation, but the court added, “to require a non-party to disseminate this information would be unfair and prejudicial and potentially in conflict with the gag order. The subpoena wholly fails to meet the requirements of Texas law.”
Attorneys for Clendennen however, were allowed to view the film.
The AP said Saturday that a mountain of evidence including 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 the restaurant parking lot, will be reviewed by a grand jury – but it is unclear when.
Police have claimed that 430 weapons were recovered from the crime scene, including 151 guns, along with tomahawks, brass knuckles and a machete.
Officers called the incident “a remarkable situation where [Waco authorities] were faced with open gang warfare,” and have also claimed that Waco officers turned their automatic rifle settings off and fired only 12 rounds, while 32 other rounds came from bikers.
The Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents website has an entire page dedicated to National, State and Local Happenings with links to various political calls to action and events. That page features a photo of a U.S. Marine standing at attention with a group of bikers and a photo of an eagle over an American flag with the motto, “Don’t tread on me. I refuse to allow my civil servant to run my life.”
Conspiracy theories about the incident aside, the existing evidence appears to show that over-zealous police, while acting on poor intelligence of impending violence from the bikers, reacted unnecessarily to the situation by gunning down and arresting unarmed and innocent bystanders.