A federal judge dismissed McLennan County as a defendant in a civil rights lawsuit filed by three bikers arrested after the 2015 Twin Peaks shootout but ruled the plaintiffs can pursue claims against the city of Waco and seven individual defendants.
In a 22-page ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Alan Albright threw out some of the claims filed by bikers Bradley Terwilliger, Benjamin Matcek and Jimmy Dan Smith, as well as dismissing the county and four Waco police officers from the suit.
The lawsuit, filed by the three bikers who were never indicted in the deadly shootout, is one of about 20 pending Twin Peaks civil lawsuits involving about 130 bikers with claims of unlawful arrest and conspiracy.
The plaintiffs, represented by Dallas attorney Don Tittle, allege former McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna was the final policymaker for McLennan County regarding the events at Twin Peaks. Reyna and the county disputed the claim, and Albright, citing legal precedent in dismissing the county from the lawsuit, ruled that a county sheriff, not the district attorney, is the final policymaker.
“In sum, plaintiffs allege that Reyna wrongly determined that the plaintiffs should be arrested based only on their presence at Twin Peaks,” the order states. “As discussed above, the sheriff — not the district attorney — is the final policymaker regarding ‘preserving the peace and arresting all offenders …’
“Thus, regardless of Reyna’s involvement in helping to decide whether the arrests should be made, he did not have authority to make municipal policy.”
The lawsuit alleges Reyna was the county’s final policymaker because he “was responsible for devising the overall prosecutorial goals and strategies” of the county on the day of the shootout that left nine bikers dead and 20 injured.
“Even assuming that is accurate, Reyna still cannot be the final policymaker in this context because plaintiffs complain of wrong arrests, not of wrongful prosecution,” the order states. “Thus, Reyna’s prosecutorial goals and strategies are irrelevant to whether he was the final policymaker in the area of ordering and making arrests, because he had no authority to dictate policy in that area. Accordingly, the county cannot be held liable for Reyna’s individual actions.”
The judge denied the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Tittle declined comment on the judge’s order. Dallas attorney Tom Brandt, who represents the county and Reyna, and Waco attorneys Mike Dixon and Charles Olson, who represent the city of Waco and its officers, did not return phone messages Tuesday.
“We are pleased with the dismissal of some of the claims and some of the parties and will continue to diligently litigate the remaining claims,” Waco City Attorney Jennifer Richie said.
The various rulings by Albright leave Reyna, the former district attorney, as the sole former county representative remaining in the lawsuit. The order leaves claims pending against Brent Stroman, former Waco police chief; Robert Lanning, assistant chief; Detective Jeffrey Rogers; and police officers Manual Chavez, Patrick Swanton, Austin Evans, Jason Vela, Christopher Nall and John Allovio, and Department of Public Safety agents Steven Schwartz and Christopher Frost.
Smith, the biker, brought a separate false arrest claim against Evans, Vela, Nall and Allovio, which Albright dismissed after ruling the claim was insufficient to overcome the officers’ qualified immunity.
Smith alleges he left Twin Peaks during the shootout to take a wounded friend to the hospital. After leaving the hospital, Smith, Terwilliger and Matcek were parked at a closed business when the four officers approached them and eventually arrested Matcek and Terwilliger on weapons charges.
Smith was arrested for “directing activities of criminal street gangs, even though he did not meet any of the elements whatsoever,” the suit alleges.
“While a complaint … does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do,” Albright wrote, quoting legal precedent, in dismissing the officers from the suit.
More than 200 bikers were jailed on identical arrest warrant allegations. Only one case went to trial, which ended in a hung jury favoring acquittal and a mistrial. District Attorney Barry Johnson, Reyna’s successor, dismissed the remaining charges against the bikers.
The lawsuits allege the defendants violated the bikers’ Fourth Amendment rights by obtaining arrest warrants based on a fill-in-the-name affidavit that lacked probable cause. They also allege defendants violated their 14th Amendment due process right to be free from unlawful arrest.
Albright threw out the plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment claims, ruling the Fourth Amendment covers unlawful arrest.
The order states Albright is referring the case to U.S. Magistrate Jeffrey Manske to handle discovery issues.