Twin Peaks shootout

Bikers wait to be transported after the Twin Peaks shootout. 47 more bikers are suing over their arrests after the shootout.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file

Forty-seven bikers arrested after the Twin Peaks shootout, including a retired 32-year police veteran, have added their names to a growing list of those claiming in lawsuits that they were jailed without cause under excessive bonds in the May 2015 melee.

The bikers claim their civil rights were violated when city and county officials decided to arrest 177 bikers on identical charges and place them under $1 million bonds after the May 17, 2015, shootout in which nine bikers died and dozens were injured.

The latest two lawsuits were filed Friday evening in an Austin federal court on the bikers’ behalf by Dallas attorney Don Tittle, who previously had filed suit for 31 bikers in the same court. Of the previous 31 bikers, only seven are under indictment on first-degree felony engaging in organized criminal activity charges.

Tittle added three of the 47 new plaintiffs, Richard Dauley, Justin Waddington and James Venable, to existing lawsuits this week. Those three are not indicted, and the 44 other new plaintiffs all are indicted.

Included in this group of plaintiffs is Martin D.C. Lewis, who is identified in the lawsuit as a retired 32-year veteran of the San Antonio Police Department whose father was a San Antonio police officer for 27 years.

Wednesday will mark two years since the shootout and the deadline to file civil suits within the statute of limitations.

Sept. 1 stay

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks extended a stay until Sept. 1 in the civil rights lawsuits filed by the unindicted bikers. Sparks had ruled previously that the criminal cases in McLennan County of the 155 bikers indicted would take precedence over the civil lawsuits.

Attorneys for bikers who were arrested but not indicted asked Sparks to lift the stay in their cases, but the judge, in a ruling last month, left the stay in place until at least Sept. 1.

The previous lawsuits named as defendants former Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman, Waco police Detective Manuel Chavez, McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, the city of Waco and McLennan County.

The new lawsuits include those defendants and also added Waco Assistant Police Chief Robert Lanning, Waco police Detective Jeffrey Rogers, Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Steven Schwartz and DPS agent Christopher Frost.

While extending the stay in the civil cases, Sparks warned McLennan County and city of Waco officials that after Sept. 1, he would need more than their assurances that cases against the unindicted bikers “remain under investigation” to convince him to keep the stay in place.

“Despite the fact that no evidence whatsoever indicates that any of them were engaged in anything other than completely lawful conduct, defendants Stroman, Reyna and Chavez recently stated in legal pleadings filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas that ‘these individuals have not been absolved of criminal wrongdoing’ and remain very much under investigation,” Tittle wrote. “This suit seeks to correct the miscarriage of justice and assault on the United States Constitution perpetrated by these defendants.”

No biker has gone to trial in the criminal case, and several trial dates that were set have been postponed.

Reyna conferred with Stroman by telephone and with Stroman’s top assistants at the scene of the shootout before the decision was made to arrest the bikers en masse.

Waco police officials already had interviewed and identified a busload of bikers and allowed them to leave Waco before Reyna arrived and conferred with Stroman. After that, every biker with ties to the Cossacks or rival Bandidos went to jail, including some bikers who weren’t at Twin Peaks when the shooting started.

Sparks instructed the defendants in the case that if the plaintiffs again ask him to lift the stay in cases involving unindicted bikers, they should “describe with specificity the status of its criminal investigation into plaintiffs and its expected duration.”

An effort to disqualify Reyna from overseeing the prosecution of the biker cases remains pending in Waco’s 10th Court of Appeals.

The lawsuits allege authorities relied on “identical, fill-in-the-blank” arrest affidavits that did not allege specific facts against the plaintiffs “that would in any way establish probable cause” for their arrests. The indictments allege the bikers acted as members of a criminal street gang, which the lawsuits dispute.

Reyna and police officials decided to arrest the bikers en masse “based entirely on their presence at Twin Peaks, the motorcycle club that defendants presumed an individual was associated with and/or the clothing they were wearing” at the time of the incident, the suit alleges.

“Rather than investigating the incident and relying on actual facts to establish probable cause, defendants theorized that a conspiracy of epic proportion between dozens of people had taken place, and willfully ignored the total absence of facts to support their ‘theory,’ ” according to the suits.

Staff writer at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering courts and criminal justice. Follow me on Twitter @TSpoonFeed.

Recommended for you