WASHINGTON — Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams, an attorney and a journalism professor were selected Monday to review the Treasury Department’s internal investigation of the deadly assault on the Branch Davidian cult near Waco.
Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said the three-member panel will be charged with offering guidance to the department’s investigation, reviewing its findings and providing an assessment of the final report.
On Feb. 28, 100 agents of the department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms conducted a firearms raid on the cult’s compound only to be met with heavy gunfire from cult members. Four agents and six cult members were killed.
That raid was followed by a 51-day standoff, led on the government side by the FBI. It ended April 19 several hours after the FBI started injecting tear gas into the compound when a fire, which authorities say was set by cult members, leveled the compound.
Authorities have removed 72 bodies from the rubble. Among the dead identified was cult leader Vernon Howell, a one-time rock musician whose followers considered him to be Jesus Christ.
Howell had claimed 95 people — including 17 children, were inside the compound and wanted to stay with him. Nine people escaped the compound before it was consumed by flames.
The internal ATF investigation, under the supervision of Assistant Secretary for Enforcement Ronald K. Noble, is to determine whether they were followed, the department said.
The justice Department, under the leadership of Deputy Attorney General-designate Philip Heymann, a former head of the department’s criminal division, will conduct its own internal investigation into the facts surrounding the department’s part of the case. It has not yet chosen experts to review that probe, department spokesman Carl Stern said Monday.
In addition to Williams, the other two members of the Treasury Department review panel are Henry S. Ruth Jr. and Edwin O. Guthman.
Ruth, a former chief Watergate prosecutor, served on the commission that examined police actions in the fatal standoff in Philadelphia with the MOVE cult.
Guthman, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was national editor of the Los Angeles Times and editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer before joining the University of Southern California.
Before nameed Los Angeles police chief, Williams was police commissioner of Philadelphia.
“I expect a thorough, comprehensive and uncompromising review of events that led to the death and wounding of so many courageous ATF agents,” Bentsen said in a statement.
Members of Congress have criticized the ATF for launching the raid in the first place, and Bentsen has said he was “deeply troubled” by the fact that cult members were warned of the raid in advance.