Twin Peaks

On the two-year anniversary of the Twin Peaks shootout, 18 more bikers filed federal civil rights lawsuits over their arrests.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file

Twenty members of the Bandidos motorcycle group who were arrested after the May 17, 2015, Twin Peaks shootout in Waco have joined the ranks of bikers who have filed civil rights lawsuits in an Austin federal court.

All 20 were among 155 indicted in the incident and claim they were unlawfully arrested and held under excessive bonds.

“The mass arrests were unprecedented in both their scope and the complete absence of individual, particularized facts to establish probable cause,” the suit alleges. “This suit seeks to correct the miscarriage of justice and assault on the United States Constitution perpetrated by these defendants.”

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

The 20 new plaintiffs are represented by Dallas attorney Don Tittle, who now has filed federal lawsuits on behalf of 98 bikers arrested after the chaotic incident that left nine bikers dead and more than 20 injured.

“Each of the plaintiffs in this case was a member of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club at the time of this incident,” the lawsuit states. “It is not illegal to be a member of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, and no law of the United States or the state of Texas is violated simply by membership in the Bandidos MC.

“The government wrongfully arrested each of these individuals, claiming that two lawful activities added together somehow equals criminal conduct. No matter how fanciful a tale the defendants attempt to weave, mere presence at Twin Peaks on that fateful day, without more, does not a crime make,” the suit alleges.

The suit acknowledges the tragedy of that day but calls into question the role of law enforcement present at Twin Peaks, as well as questioning the mass arrests.

“It is undisputed that members of law enforcement fired upon individuals at the gathering, although it is yet unknown the extent of the injuries caused by law enforcement,” according to the suit. “Regardless of the manner or cause of the deaths, the loss of life that occurred that day is, without question, tragic. Unfortunately, the actions of law enforcement, including members of the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office, compounded the tragedy by causing the wrongful arrest and incarceration of countless innocent individuals.”

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, of Austin, is presiding over the cases involving the 98 bikers. He initially put a stay on the civil cases, saying that the criminal cases in McLennan County needed to be tried before the civil proceedings. He extended that stay until Sept. 1 in the civil rights cases filed by the unindicted bikers, who filed a motion asking that their civil cases proceed since they are not involved in the criminal matters.

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

Criminal trials in limbo

No biker has gone to trial in the criminal case. Several trial dates have been postponed, and the time frame of the criminal proceedings has been placed in limbo because of the federal criminal prosecutions of national Bandidos leaders in San Antonio.

Federal officials have informed Reyna that the unrelated investigation in San Antonio uncovered information about some of the Twin Peaks defendants. However, federal officials snubbed Reyna when he asked to see their evidence so he could fulfill his office’s requirements under the Michael Morton Act to disclose that evidence to lawyers for the Twin Peaks defendants.

Federal authorities said they would share the information after the trial in San Antonio, which has been postponed from August to February, according to multiple media outlets in San Antonio.

Some of the Twin Peaks attorneys have urged the courts for trial dates, saying their clients want to put the matters behind them and would be willing to waive their rights to seeing the unknown evidence.

Local prosecutors have balked at the notion, saying any appellate lawyers hired later if those bikers were convicted would not be bound by the agreements and could appeal on ineffective assistance of counsel grounds.

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

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