A judge will rule next week if McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna will continue to direct the prosecution of 154 bikers indicted in the May 2015 Twin Peaks shootout.
The continuation of a hearing on a motion filed by two bikers seeking to disqualify Reyna and his office from what one of their lawyers called “a one-in-a-million type of case” concluded Friday in Waco’s 54th State District Court.
Judge Matt Johnson gave attorneys on both sides until Wednesday to file briefs supporting their positions and said he likely will rule on the issue Thursday or Friday.
Clint Broden, who represents Matthew Clendennen, and Abigail Anastasio, who represents Ray Nelson, filed a two-prong challenge that seeks to remove Reyna from the case. They allege Reyna, as a defendant in 10 federal civil rights lawsuits filed by bikers arrested after the shootout, has a financial conflict of interest in making sure the bikers are convicted. They also allege he overstepped his authority when advising police officials about the mass arrest of 177 bikers.
“There has been no other case, to my knowledge, where 150-plus people were arrested on a fill-in-the blank affidavit and the police didn’t want them all arrested but the district attorney advised for them all to be arrested,” Broden said.
“He stepped out of his role as district attorney and didn’t allow the police to perform their duties in their role as investigators of these crimes and to make decisions on who to arrest. Clearly from the evidence and testimony of the officers, Mr. Reyna orchestrated the arrests in these cases.”
Reyna, who declined comment after the hearing, argued that several of the bikers who are suing him were not indicted by his office and still have not been indicted, even after they sued him.
Broden filed a motion to compel Reyna or other county officials to answer his questions concerning who was paying Reyna’s legal expenses and any judgment should the federal civil jury side with the bikers. The lawsuits claim the bikers were jailed under $1 million bonds without sufficient probable cause to justify their arrests.
Tom Brandt, a Dallas attorney who represents Reyna and other county officials, started Friday’s hearing by asking that the judge quash subpoenas for County Judge Scott Felton, County Administrator Dustin Chapman, County Auditor Stan Chambers and county commissioners.
Broden alleged in his motion to compel that Reyna did not sufficiently answer his questions concerning his insurance coverage by the county and that he has been unable to get the answers from Reyna and Brandt since the last hearing in August.
“All I want is one person to answer one simple question that I think we know the answer to, but it needs to be in the record,” Broden said.
Reyna has said he answered all the questions at the previous hearing, saying to allege otherwise is “false, misleading and defamatory.”
Brandt argued that Broden already has a copy of the county’s insurance policy that he obtained through the Public Information Act and that many of his questions would invoke answers protected by attorney-client or attorney work-product privileges.
Brandt said if Reyna is disqualified, it would set a bad precedent by which every criminal defendant could sue the prosecutor handling his case to get him removed.
The judge quashed the subpoena of all county officials after Brandt agreed that the commissioners have not voted to finance any judgment for which Reyna might be liable in excess of the county’s $500,000 insurance coverage.
Broden alleged in a motion filed Thursday that Reyna lied about his phone conversations with former Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman in the hours after the May 17, 2015, shootout. He suggested records for Reyna’s cellphone show no phone calls between the men after the melee.
Broden also called McLennan County District Clerk Jon Gimble as a witness Friday, asking what he and Reyna talked about on the phone two hours after nine bikers were killed and 20 others were wounded.
Gimble said he doesn’t remember speaking to Reyna that day.
As the hearing was winding down, Brandt asked that Reyna’s phone records, which were admitted into evidence, be sealed by the court for Reyna’s privacy concerns. Brandt then noticed that the records obtained by Broden through a subpoena were for May 17, 2016, a year after the Twin Peaks incident.
Broden, unaware of his mistake, backtracked quickly, but continued to assert that Reyna’s testimony from the August hearing contained inconsistencies with testimony from Stroman and three high-ranking officers.
In other testimony, Michael Jarrett, Reyna’s first assistant, testified that it is not unusual for prosecutors to be called to crime scenes to assist police with legal questions and other matters.
Jarrett said he was called to crime scenes when he worked in Dallas and Williamson counties and was called to the Twin Peaks scene by a DA’s office investigator.
After the hearing, Brandon Luce, a former prosecutor in Reyna’s office who was hired to represent the state at the disqualification hearing, said he thinks the judge will deny the defense motion to disqualify Reyna.
“What was noticeable from today is that the defense thought they caught Mr. Reyna in a lie, but they didn’t have the phone records to prove it,” Luce said. “All his contentions that Mr. Reyna was lying were false because they had the wrong records.”
“That takes an arrow out of their quiver, definitely. I think the judge will look at the law. I think the law is clear that this is an unprecedented request as far as getting a DA disqualified. It is very hard to do. It seldom happens, and I think the law is clear and I think the judge will look at the law and rule accordingly.”