Waco Justice? 100 Days After Twin Peaks Biker Arrests, Things Look Fishy to Criminal Defense
Today, the Dallas Morning News published an editorial calling for the end of the gag order down in Waco which prevents law enforcement and state authorities — much less anyone else — from revealing information about the May 17, 2015 shootout involving lots of bikers and motorcycle club members at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas.
This is a GREAT idea.
You can read the DMN Editorial here: “Editorial: We appeal to the court: End gag order in Waco bikers case.”
Remember Waco? Back in May, 9 men died in the flurry of gunfire that sunny afternoon in the restaurant and its parking lot; 18 people were injured. And 177 people were arrested that day. That’s a huge amount of people being arrested. HUGE.
At the Scene of the Twin Peaks Shooting
It’s reported that several motorcycle clubs were at the Twin Peaks Restaurant in Waco, Texas, on May 17th for a pre-arranged meeting of the groups, a scheduled meeting of the Confederation of Clubs and Independents.
Reports are that two rival biker gangs got into a confrontation, the Cossacks Motorcycle Club and the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, and shots were fired in the parking lot. However, it’s also reported that 12 shots were fired not by the motorcycle enthusiasts, but by the police. We don’t know if any of those police bullets hurt or killed anyone.
Arrest Affidavits: 177 Arrested in Twin Peaks Incident
The affidavits that accompanied those arrests? Many are calling them “fill-in-the-blank” arrest affidavits, where every individual was identified in the affidavits as a “criminal,” although a later review of the State of Texas criminal records revealed that over 75% of those arrested at Twin Peaks have no record of a criminal conviction.
It’s reported that one police officer has explained a justice of the peace there in Waco okayed these 177 arrest affidavits in mass, without taking the time to make a decision on each affidavit’s probable cause basis for arrest.
Each person arrested was for felonies that would put them behind bars for anywhere from 15 years to life; this even though it’s not disputed that all 177 definitely did not shoot bullets that day nor engage in fisticuffs. There was violence on May 17 in Waco, but the event didn’t have 177 people out there in the parking lot actively engaged in the battlefront.
Everyone has been arrested for being a participant in an organized crime conspiracy to commit murder.
Really High Bail After Twin Peaks
After all these arrests came the bail bond hearings. An unbelievable amount of those 177 folk who had been arrested at Twin Peaks were given high bonds. REALLY HIGH BONDS. Many received bonds in the amount of $1,000,000 or more.
By mid-July, only four men remain behind bars: Michael E. Chaney (Cossack); Joseph Ortiz (Bandido); Marcus Pilkington (Bandido); and Daniel Pesina (Macheteros). Most of the remaining 177 people arrested had successfully argued for their bonds to be reduced. Three of them had sufficient funds to post the $1,000,000 bonds.
Gag Order in June 2015
Then came the gag order in June 2015. The former law partner of the current District Attorney there in Waco is the presiding judge that signed it. (As the DMN Editorial points out, with a comment that some are “asking questions about what kind of behind-the-scenes cooperation is going on among judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement in Central Texas.”)
The order has been appealed and is currently under review.
Examining Trials for Those 177 People Arrested in Waco
In an examining trial, a court hearing is held to determine if there was sufficient cause to arrest the person at the get-go, and if so, then if the case should continue on in the system, to the grand jury for a possible indictment.
Examining trials have been happening in the Twin Peaks arrests, but from reports they’re looking pretty wacky.
For instance, a Buda, Texas, chaplain named Lawrence Yager had his examining trial and the prosecutor won the argument that it was acceptable to arrest the chaplain on a felony charge that day. Two police officers provided sufficient testimony to warrant the chaplain being held over for grand jury consideration according to the visiting judge.
One has to wonder how hard the job is, being the chaplain and spiritual adviser to the Bandido’s Motorcycle Club, without having to face this kind of proceeding. (He’s also chaplain for the Texas Association of Vietnam Vets, and a local Buda VFW post.)
Yager was there, but he was not dressed in biker garb — no “cuts” — but in a Christian tee shirt. Yager did have guns in in possession, in his Toyota Avalon and on his person. He also has a concealed carry license, and explained that the reason he had weapons with him that day was because his home was being remodeled and he didn’t want to leave his pistols and rifles at home while he went out of town, fearing that workers might take them.
No testimony that he fired a weapon that day, or that he was providing weapons to anyone else so they could use them.
Formal Charges and the Grand Jury
No formal charges have been made, there have been no indictments coming down from a grand jury. People sat in jail after police officers arrested them for weeks, some for months, before they were allowed to return to their family and friends.
Autopsy reports for the 9 members of the motorcycle cubls that were killed on May 17 were released last month. They did not include ballistics information to confirm whose bullets were involved in their deaths.
Due Process Is a Constitutional Guarantee
It’s always a big red flag when the police and the prosecutors go silent in a case. One has to wonder if they are protecting an ongoing investigation, or protecting themselves and circling the wagons against possible charges and finger pointing against them for violations of the law. Important laws like constitutional due process and no unreasonable search and seizure.
Here are some questions:
Why haven’t we seen any video from May 15, 2015?
We’re all really used to having the police or other law enforcement release videos of the events – sometimes within hours after shots were fired. Why no videos of the Twin Peaks shootings?
Why is this gag order needed — 100+ days after the incident?
It’s so easy for prosecutors and police to say they cannot speak about Twin Peaks when there’s a gag order to reference.
Who’s not talking? Among others:
- The McLennan County District Attorney’s Office (District Attorney Abel Reyna)
- The Waco Sheriff’s Department (Sheriff Parnell McNamara)
- The Waco Police Department (Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman)
- The Waco Fire Department
- The Texas Department of Public Safety
- The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Traffic, Firearms and Explosives.
The job of a criminal defense lawyer is to insure that every citizen’s rights are protected during the criminal justice process. Because erosion and disregard of our rights isn’t going to start with those who are considered to be “solid citizens” — it’s going to happen with people who are like the Bandidos, and Cossacks, and the others there at Twin Peaks that day.
Due process doesn’t have an exception clause — it’s guaranteed to everyone.
So, what is going on in Waco? What’s with the “secrecy” that news media like ABCNews is concerned about? We need to know what’s really going on with these arrests and charges, and that gag order needs to be lifted.
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