AUSTIN — Attorneys hoping to proceed with civil rights lawsuits on behalf of bikers arrested after the 2015 Twin Peaks shootout left court disappointed Monday after a judge extended a stay on the proceedings.
Senior U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, of Austin, conducted a status conference Monday in a portion of the 133 Twin Peaks civil rights suits and extended by at least 90 days a stay that has been in place for almost two years.
Sparks agreed with Thomas Brandt, an attorney who represents McLennan County and District Attorney Abel Reyna, that it would be prudent to defer the lawsuits until the conclusion of the ongoing federal racketeering trial in San Antonio involving former national Bandidos leaders Jeffrey Pike and John Portillo.
The civil lawsuits in Austin — and to some extent the criminal cases in Waco — have been held up because a federal prosecutor in San Antonio revealed last year that the Bandidos investigation there contains information that could prove relevant to the Waco cases. But the federal prosecutor has said he won’t turn over the materials to Reyna until after the federal trial, which officials say should conclude in four to six weeks.
Dallas attorney Don Tittle, who represents about 115 of the 133 Twin Peaks plaintiffs, noted that about 25 of his clients were not indicted in the May 2015 shootout. Tittle asked Judge Sparks to allow at least those cases to proceed into the discovery phase.
Tittle said he was disappointed in the judge’s ruling. He said Reyna’s argument to delay the civil cases pending new evidence from federal prosecutors is “disingenuous” and another attempt by Reyna to avoid being placed under oath on a witness stand.
He said Reyna’s recent spate of case dismissals and refusals of Twin Peaks defendants’ cases is further proof that the mass arrests and indictments of 155 bikers should not have occurred.
Brandt and Waco attorneys Charles Olson and Mike Dixon, who represent the city of Waco and police officials, declined comment after the hearing.
Houston attorney Paul Looney, who represents Morgan English, echoed other attorneys’ disappointment.
“We obviously have meritorious claims and we can’t get into a courtroom,” Looney said. “I have never experienced anything like this and I can’t explain it.”
Sparks ruled almost two years ago that the civil rights cases could not move forward before the criminal cases are disposed of in McLennan County. However, in a later ruling, he stayed the cases until March 15, saying he might consider removing the stay, particularly in the cases involving bikers arrested but not indicted.
The judge was aware of the mistrial in the first and only Twin Peaks trial, which involved Dallas Bandidos chapter president Jacob Carrizal. He asked the parties how many more Twin Peaks criminal cases remain pending in light of recent dismissals of 26 cases and refusals in 32 others.
Brandt, representing McLennan County, estimated that 130 pending criminal cases remain, with “possible further culling” to be done. Brandt said he also thinks the unknown evidence promised by the San Antonio prosecutors is delaying other trial settings.
Tittle, however, told the judge that was a stretch, adding that Reyna has dismissed the last two Twin Peaks cases with imminent trial settings.
Sparks told the parties there is a good chance he won’t be hearing the cases, since he is 79 years old and his court docket is packed through September 2020.
Most of the civil cases discussed Monday were filed by bikers alleging false arrests that violated their civil rights. Some of the other suits involve other actions and name other defendants.
Defendants represented at the hearing Monday, besides Reyna, McLennan County and the city of Waco, included 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.
Some of the suits also name Peaktastic Beverage, which held Twin Peaks’ liquor license; Front Burner Restaurants, the former franchise holder; and Twin Restaurant Investment Co., the restaurant chain owner.
The individual defendants did not attend Monday’s hearing.