An agent wounded in the Feb. 28 raid at Mount Carmel has filed a lawsuit against the Tribune-Herald, alleging that it violated an agreement not to run its Branch Davidian series and is responsible for his injuries.
John T. Risenhoover, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms from San Antonio, also alleges in his that Tribune-Herald staff members called cult leader Vernon Howell that Sunday morning and told him of the impending raid.
Risenhoover suffered three gunshot wounds in the raid, according to the suit filed Wednesday in Waco’s 19th State District Court. Four of his fellow agents died and at least 16 were wounded in the 45-minute gun battle with followers of Howell, also known as David Koresh.
The suit also names the paper’s parent companies, Cox Enterprises Inc. and Cox Texas Publications Inc., as defendants.
“After learning of the investigation of the Waco Tribune-Herald, ATF contacted the Waco Tribune-Herald for the purpose of ensuring that said newspaper investigation did not conflict or interfere with the ATF investigation,” the suit says.
“Following discussions on such, the Waco Tribune-Herald, for valid consideration, expressly and impliedly agreed not to publish any articles on or results of its investigation until after such time as the ATF had completed its investigation,” according to the suit.
Tribune-Herald Editor Bob Lott denied the allegations.
“We categorically deny that we ever had any agreement with the ATF not to publish our series,” Lott said. “We notified the ATF the afternoon before publication. We categorically deny that any of our people informed those in the compound of any pending ATF action.
“Jack Killorin, chief ATF spokesman in Washington, has said on more than one occasion that our series was not to blame for the tragic events of Feb. 28 at Mount Carmel. The injuries to Agent Risenhoover and the deaths of and injuries to others are regrettable. But they were not caused by this paper,” Lott said.
The Tribune-Herald, which conducted an eight-month investigation of the Branch Davidians, published the first part of a seven-part series on the cult on Feb. 27. In the days following the raid, ATF agents said their investigation into the cult had lasted “a little over eight months.” At a later news conference, an agent said the ATF investigation had been “over nine months.” Later, agents reported that the ATF probe had lasted a year.
In Risenhoover’s suit against the newspaper, filed by Waco attorney James Dunnam, the agent says the ATF investigation began “in about 1991 or 1992.”
Killorin said Wednesday that Risenhoover’s suit was filed “on his own without the sanction of the agency.”
He said again that there was no agreement from the newspaper not to publish the series.
“I think it’s been fairly described … that ATF had knowledge of an upcoming series, that we did engage in discussion with the publisher about the possibility of withholding that for a period of time, and that that was not agreed to by the publisher,” Killorin said. “And we certainly did not provide to the publisher any specific information concerning what, or when or where we might take action. And, in return, we got no date of publication” out of that contact.
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, also alleges that the paper was negligent and caused the agent’s injuries by going “to or near” the compound the morning of the raid; by alerting the occupants of the compound of the impending approach of ATF agents; in advising “third parties” of the raid; in failing to warn ATF agents that cult members had been warned; and in creating a “situation that provoked a heightened imminently dangerous situation which imperiled life.”