A federal judge lifted a stay Friday in the civil rights lawsuits filed by more than 100 bikers arrested after the 2015 Twin Peaks shootout in Waco and said the lawsuits can proceed.
U.S. District Judge Alan Albright’s ruling during a 40-minute teleconference with attorneys in the cases does not include the two dozen bikers with pending criminal cases in McLennan County, only those with civil suits pending whose criminal cases have been dismissed or those who were never indicted.
The lawsuits allege McLennan County, city of Waco and state officials violated the plaintiffs’ civil rights by wrongfully arresting the bikers en masse and without probable cause after the May 2015 shootout at the former Twin Peaks restaurant that left nine bikers dead and 20 wounded. About 200 bikers were arrested and 155 initially were indicted on identical engaging in organized criminal activity cases.
The bulk of those criminal cases were dismissed after McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna was defeated by Barry Johnson in the March Republican primary.
The lawsuits were filed in Travis County, where Senior U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks had issued a stay on the civil proceedings while state and federal criminal cases against leaders of the Bandidos motorcycle group were being played out in Waco and San Antonio.
Sparks has since transferred the cases to Albright, who was sworn in as Waco’s new federal judge in September.
Sparks denied a motion last year from defendants in the case to transfer the cases from Austin to Waco. On Friday, Albright was asked by Mike Dixon, who represents the city of Waco in the Twin Peaks suits, if he would consider another motion asking that the cases be heard in Waco.
Albright said he will review Sparks’ ruling on the venue matter, but said his “gut reaction” is to allow the plaintiffs to have the cases heard where they chose to file the lawsuits, which is in Austin.
Federal courts in Waco and Austin are part of the sprawling federal Western District of Texas.
Albright’s lifting of the stay allows the plaintiffs to amend their petitions and for the defense to file challenges to the claims. After that stage, attorneys will seek discovery and schedule depositions.
Tom Brandt, who represents McLennan County and Reyna, told the judge he will be filing motions claiming defenses of qualified immunity and said deposing Reyna and others should be postponed until the judge rules on his motion to dismiss the cases.
Albright left it with the attorneys on both sides to work together and said he would get involved in discovery issues when the sides could not agree. He compared the complex case with multiple parties to “herding cats.”
“I am happy to be involved and happy to do what I can to keep the trains moving on time,” Albright said. “This is a very unwieldy case, and we need to keep the train on track.”
No trial date has been set for any of the lawsuits.
Besides McLennan County, Reyna and the city of Waco, other defendants include former Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman; Waco Detective Manuel Chavez; Waco police officials Robert Lanning, Jeffrey Rogers and Patrick Swanton; and Department of Public Safety officials Steven Schwartz and Christopher Frost.
One of the suits also names Peaktastic Beverage, which held Twin Peaks’ liquor license; Front Burner Restaurants, the former franchise holder; and Twin Restaurant Investment Co., the restaurant chain owner.