A state biker organization is urging people to call and write Waco and Texas authorities to demand the release of bikers from the McLennan County Jail, while the local Hooters is asking its customers not to display signs of motorcycle club affiliation inside its establishment.
Steve “Dozer” Cochran, of Waco, said the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents has issued a call to action to those who feel injustice has occurred after the deadly shooting May 17 at Twin Peaks resulted in 175 behind bars, nine dead and 18 injured.
The organization is asking people to call, email or fax a letter to the White House, Gov. Greg Abbott, the Supreme Court, Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr., senators, city officials, the sheriff’s department, judges, and others, demanding the immediate release of bikers they say are being held unlawfully.
Cochran said local authorities have overreached and delivered a false narrative to the community of what happened in the deadly shooting. Local authorities have mischaracterized bikers, destroying lives and livelihoods, and created devastation and irreparable damage in the way they’ve handled the investigation, he said.
“It may not be a crime, but it damn sure ain’t right,” he said, referring to police action since the shooting.
Cochran, a state co- director, along with Sandra Lynch — one of the 175 arrested — of the U.S. Defenders Legislative Strike Force, a biker advocacy group, scheduled the COC&I meeting at Twin Peaks to discuss legislative matters. Cochran belongs to Sons of the South MC, while Lynch, of Mart, is president of the Los Pirados MC.
Cochran said authorities never contacted him about the meeting, which he and Lynch reserved space for and had on the group’s calendar two months prior.
There are other events that followed the shooting that don’t pass the “sniff test,” he said. With the magnitude of what occurred that day, Waco police began to give a narrative 90 minutes after it occurred, instead of saying it was too soon to explain the situation, he said. Cochran said that indicates the police knew in advance two rival gangs would be in attendance, yet still allowed law-abiding residents they were sworn to protect to sit down at the restaurant despite possible danger.
“I was there. I heard a lot of gun fire. A lot. And guess what, it was the police,” he said.
Cochran said local officials are now backtracking with the recent reduction of the $1 million bail for several inmates. Six bikers have been released from jail after agreements to reduce their $1 million bonds.
Cochran said he’s asking Gov. Abbott to give control of the investigation to another agency, instead of Waco police.
“I’ve spent my life working for motorcycle rights,” he said. “I’ve spent my life trying to overcome the stigma that’s on the motorcycle community by things that happened 20 to 30 years ago and TV shows that take place that make us out to be something we’re not.”
Cochran, who has lived in the area for 24 years, said he’s too old to fix the stigmas he faces but he’s determined to leave the perception of the motorcycle community better for his family, especially his grandson, who just purchased a motorcycle.
“He grew up riding on the back of mine,” he said. “He doesn’t deserve to be treated like that.”
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said the police department is still leading the investigation and is being assisted by the Texas Rangers, DPS criminal investigation division, ATF and FBI. Swanton also disputed the notion that Waco police, or any other agency involved with the investigation, have been anything less than forthcoming and honest with the public since the incident took place.
“This is a joint effort, and I said before that the large number of agencies involved in this, there is no way that this could be a conspiracy to cover anything up,” Swanton said. “We have absolutely nothing to cover up. We have been extremely transparent the entire time, and we will continue to be. I won’t put anything out that could hinder prosecution.
“We believe, in the long run, that people will understand that our officers on the scene acted appropriately and did what they had to do. Our officers saved innocent lives that day. And we are willing to (talk more about specifics of the investigation) when the time is appropriate. We will be very transparent on this and make sure our citizens are comfortable.”
Swanton said that the people involved in the incident that day know what occurred and know who started it and said law enforcement reacted to human beings being killed.
“This was a very intricate, very fluid, moving situation,” he said. “I think that everything we have put out, I put out as quickly as possible.”
Swanton has repeatedly said that law enforcement officials had asked for cooperation from Twin Peaks’ management and received none until after the shooting. He has said police asked Twin Peaks not to host the meeting on May 17, but were rebuffed.
The COC&I posted recently on its Facebook page that the Hooters in Waco was banning any customers wearing club patches.
Jessica Highsmith, with Largemouth Communications, the public relations company for Hooters and other companies, referred to a statement the company issued.
“In light of the tragic events of May 17, the Hooters restaurant in Waco, Texas, has posted a sign requesting that patrons refrain from displaying their motorcycle club affiliation while dining with us,” the statement reads. “Even though none of our restaurants were involved in the incident, the safety and wellbeing of our guests and employees are always our top priorities and we believe special precautions are warranted in this situation, at least for now.
“This is not a system-wide policy. Although a similar request was made of guests last year in one East Coast location, we have no plans of implementing it elsewhere at this time. We fully understand that the majority of motorcycle enthusiast organizations are comprised of upstanding folks that share a passion for riding and a common interest in our community. It has been and will continue to be our privilege to welcome and serve them, along with all of our other guests, in our restaurants. Hooters will continue to work with local authorities to preserve a safe environment for our guests and employees.”
Cochran said he doesn’t blame Hooters for making the move initially, saying they erred on the side of caution, but added he thinks it’s time to move on.
“But now that the story is coming out more, I would hope that they would relax their reaction,” he said.
While the COC&I has advised club members, independents and the general public to refrain from a planned biker protest on June 7 in Waco, Cochran said he will attend on his own behalf. Cochran said the group is not supporting the rally because there will be people in attendance who are not members, “so we don’t know who they are and we don’t know what their intentions are. We don’t want our name dragged through any further mud.”
“We ask our members to behave and not get involved in any shenanigans,” he said.
He said he expects 300 to 400 people to attend. Swanton said police aren’t yet sure specifically how many they expect to ride in the protest.
Bikers plan to start the ride at 8 a.m. at Sam’s Club on East Waco Drive, and then ride through Waco in what organizers have called a peaceful, silent protest. The group will hold lunch at 12:30 p.m. at the McLennan County Courthouse.
The Facebook page promoting the event states: “We will stop at every stop sign. We will stop at every red light. We will obey the speed-limit. We will abide by all traffic laws. We encourage The American Flag. We discourage all weapons.” That page lists 331 people who plan to attend.
Swanton said the department is expecting a sizable group and will make plans accordingly. He said he encourages peaceful assembly “as long as they’re law-abiding.”
“We are aware that they’re coming, and we certainly understand that people have the right to assemble peacefully,” Swanton said.
He would not discuss the specific plans law enforcement officials have made to ensure the day is safe and peaceful for both bikers and the community.
Also, a petition that was started Thursday at petitions.whitehouse.gov asking President Barack Obama’s administration to impeach District Attorney Abel Reyna for the events that occurred had 472 signatures Friday afternoon and needs a total of 100,000 by June 27 to be brought to the president.
Another petition was created Wednesday that’s garnered more than 5,200 signatures at ipetitions.com/petition/free-the- waco-bikers. That petition requests that the United States attorney general order a civil rights investigation, asks for Abbott to recuse local judges, enforce a jail inspection, and recuse Reyna from further action, among other things.
It was started by retired U.S. Air Force Major Richard M. Cole, of Fairfax, Virginia, who said in an email that he is “an active motorcycle enthusiast and fully support the efforts to get people who were ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ released from their incarceration.”
Staff writer Olivia Messer contributed to this report.