Despite months of failed media attempts to obtain video footage and crime scene photos of the May 17 Twin Peaks shootout that killed nine men and injured 20 others, CNN released video evidence Thursday.
The footage is consistent with early police descriptions of weapons hidden between sacks of flour and bags of tortilla chips. They were allegedly in vehicles, tucked in benches, strewn across the floor, in kitchen stoves, thrown into trashcans and stuffed in toilets.
Among the weapons and blood spatters were half-eaten burgers, beer bottles held in gang-symbol koozies and half-drunk margaritas.
CNN’s video footage shows men clad in Cossacks and Bandidos colors hiding under tables, running, covered in blood, holding and firing guns during the melee.
“It does appear to be crime scene photos and video from Twin Peaks, but we did not release it,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.
“Why they put ‘Waco Police Department’ on there, we don’t know,” he added, referring to a strip of writing along the top right corner of the footage that appears to attribute the video to the department.
The line was later removed by CNN, Swanton said, noting that CNN told Waco police that the network had added the “Waco Police Department” tag to the video. By Thursday afternoon, it simply read: “Surveillance video.”
Swanton noted, “I can speculate that it was released by an attorney who got it through discovery.”
The Tribune-Herald in the days following the shootout requested surveillance video and photos from the scene, but the city refused to provide more than 19 pages of incomplete incident reports from the day of the shooting.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office ruled for the city on Aug. 7, saying it could withhold the photos, video surveillance and 911 audio recordings, among other evidence, from the Tribune-Herald.
Swanton also said the materials broadcast by CNN were not released by the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office. But, District Attorney Abel Reyna and First Assistant District Attorney Michael Jarrett did not return phone messages left Thursday.
“There is a small pool of individuals that include defense attorneys who had access to the information through discovery,” Swanton said in a statement. “The party responsible for providing the released video and photographs may be subject to ethical and legal issues for doing so.”
Swanton continued to reiterate that the Waco Police Department remains under a judge’s gag order which he said prevents police from releasing additional information or even discussing the Twin Peaks investigation.
The judge’s gag order states that it only applies to the Clendennen case, not each and every case, as many have misinterpreted the order. The release of information in the Twin Peaks cases has not been without controversy.
Initially, Reyna required attorneys for the accused bikers to sign what his office called “agreed discovery orders” that prohibited the release of the materials to the media or other third parties.
Attorneys pushed back against what they considered insulting, unnecessary guidelines imposed by Reyna’s office, especially in light of the Michael Morton Discovery Act, which requires the disclosure of state evidence but also precludes attorneys from releasing discovery items to the media and others.
So Reyna softened the agreement, calling the second version an “acknowledgment,” said Waco attorney Robert Callahan, who ran a write-in campaign against Reyna last year and was among a number of attorneys who refused to sign the agreements.
“After the DA tried to implement that in all discovery in all felony cases, the local defense (attorneys) reacted and had a meeting with the district attorney,” Callahan said. “He finally agreed that it was out of line, so they changed all the discovery documents to reflect it is an acknowledgment and tacked on language of the discovery statute and the rules of professional responsibility as it governs statements to the media.
“The problem comes when you are trying to control the receipt of information about a criminal case with an acknowledgment that you shouldn’t be talking to the press, particularly when the district attorney is so liberally ignoring those rules.”
Callahan said he likely will file a motion with the court asking a judge to order Reyna’s office to release the discovery items without requiring attorneys to sign such an agreement.
On June 30, Judge Matt Johnson of Waco’s 54th State District Court placed video from the restaurant surveillance cameras under a protective order because he said he was concerned about tainting potential jury pools.
Johnson ruled that day that Dallas attorney Clint Broden could have a copy of a Don Carlos Mexican restaurant surveillance video of the May 17 biker shootout but barred the public release of the video.
On May 20, the Associated Press viewed Twin Peaks surveillance video for a story but did not release any of the footage.
That video shows dozens of motorcycle riders running inside to seek cover and trying to guide others to safety as the gunfire erupts, according to the AP.
Broden, who represents Matthew Clendennen, a member of the Scimitars Motorcycle Club, and Austin defense attorney Adam Reposa, who represents several Bandidos, said that neither of them released the footage or photos to the media agency.
Reposa said Thursday, “This video confirms that the Bandidos had no idea about the gunfight which was about to take place but rather were ambushed by certain members of the Cossacks and numerous groups within law enforcement.”
Messages to a CNN representative were not returned Thursday.