The day Dallas Bandidos chieftain Jake Carrizal’s organized crime case went to the jury, the strapping, 35-year-old defendant looked confident, even jovial, joking at one point with his attorneys. Yet in other corners of the courthouse, McLennan County officials looked positively pale, thanks to what just a month of added security expense in connection with the first Twin Peaks trial seemed to portend.
As Trib staffer Cassie L. Smith reported in a bracing account last week, county security expenses for the past few weeks topped $400,000, abruptly swelling total taxpayer costs for the chaotic 2015 Twin Peaks biker dustup to nearly $1 million. And why the anxiety? Because Carrizal’s trial was only the first from a confused incident that saw District Attorney Abel Reyna press Waco police to jail 177 bikers on identical charges.
While 155 bikers were ultimately indicted (154 now with one death), that’s still a lot of ham sandwiches awaiting court action — and the declaring of a mistrial Friday only further complicates matters. Till the Carrizal trial debuted, expenses emanating from Twin Peaks were unsettling at first glance but fiscally approachable, especially given that the shootout that left nine dead bikers and 20 injured happened two and a half long years ago.
In an address before the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce after the Carrizal trial began, County Judge Scott Felton said McLennan County had already incurred more than a half-million dollars in expenses relating to the Twin Peaks melee, including $190,010 for outside care of prisoners, $24,895 in autopsy costs (including transport of bodies) and $161,701 in indigent defense costs.
Gov. Greg Abbott helpfully funneled a state grant of $268,433 to help defray expenses, but if the tab since the Carrizal trial is any indication, this is a drop in a big bucket. While some Trib readers understandably question the need for greatly expanded courthouse security — including those who believe the county is now paying the price for a headstrong district attorney’s questionable decisions on May 17, 2015 — we beg everyone to focus a moment beyond our county on a devastated church community in South Texas. As the wife of a law enforcement official remarked to a Trib editorial board member in the 54th District Courtroom as jurors began deliberations over pizza, we live in far different times than preceding generations, times in which hostility and homicidal impulses play out in venues once deemed sacred and off limits, even by those with evil in their hearts.
Whether in Las Vegas last month, Sutherland Springs last Sunday or a shopping center in Waco in spring 2015, headlines tell the same disturbing story. For whatever reasons — social media, video games, pandering politicians or simply the frustrations of daily life — American norms have been compromised. What was unimaginable a generation ago is now in the realm of the possible. In that context, county officials are wise to err on the side of caution in securing the old courthouse at this uncertain and anxious juncture in our history. Imagine who most of us would immediately blame if the unthinkable erupted amidst today’s increasingly expensive delivery of justice.