Images of bikers sitting on curbs waiting to be processed might have captivated the nation after the shootout at a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas this May, but evidence in the resulting criminal case is a closely-guarded secret.

Of the 177 men arrested in May, 106 were indicted by a grand jury. Now, in a very unusual move that appears to violate Texas state law, McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna has tried to keep evidence from reaching the public by making defendants’ attorneys sign an agreement not to share it with the media.

Citing the Michael Morton Act, which requires swift access to evidence without such conditions, lawyers of nine bikers arrested in the raid attended a press conference yesterday to say they will contest Reyna’s ‘discovery waiver’ in court.

It has been a busy week for the defense teams. On Wednesday, attorneys representing six of the defendants filed civil rights lawsuits against Waco and McLennan County officials in federal court.

The lawsuits allege that Reyna, Stroman and Chavez conspired to see that 177 bikers were arrested on identical engaging in organized criminal activity charges with little evidence other than the fact that they all were bikers, were wearing vests indicating which group they are associated with and had gathered for a biker coalition meeting when the shootout erupted, killing nine and wounding 20.

“Rather than investigating the incident and relying on actual facts to establish probable cause, defendants theorized that a conspiracy of epic proportion between dozens of people had taken place and willfully ignored the total absence of facts to support their ‘theory,’ ” the lawsuit alleges.

To be sure, violent criminal motorcycle gangs are a real phenomenon. But prosecutors have yet to produce any evidence that the meeting at Twin Peaks restaurant was anything more than a regular meeting of the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents to discuss legislation impacting motorcyclists, as surviving participants have always maintained.

Some of the bikers who were killed, such as Jesus “Jessie” Delgado Rodriguez, were hardly violent people. One of the slain men, Wayne Lee Campbell, had been convicted of DUI and assault, while Manuel Isaac Rodriguez had served probation for carrying a weapon into a bar.

But there simply isn’t any gang activity, drug running, or racketeering in their criminal records. In fact, so far the only public evidence that such a conspiracy existed is the word of law enforcement in McLennan County.

According to explanations police made after the incident, a gunfight broke out inside the restaurant, forcing officers to respond. Yet security video from inside the building contradicts that narrative, instead showing the crowd fleeing into the patio area from the parking lot where the shootout occurred.

If they in fact knew beforehand of violent criminals among the clubs, Waco and McLennan County agencies have not explained why they waited until a large, mixed crowd had gathered around those persons before they moved to arrest anyone.

Police maintain that rival gangs began the fight, and their weapons did not do most of the shooting, but wgile autopsies have been released, the ballistic reports have not, so it’s not even clear whose bullets killed nine men and wounded eighteen.

Authorities also declared they had recovered a thousand weapons from the crime scene, but later revised that number down to 151 firearms.

The prosecution has been as strange as the shootout or the investigation. District Attorney Reyna first demanded million-dollar bail for the defendants, but then moved to add further conditions as soon as the first detainee, a factory worker named Jeff Battey, actually managed to collect the required amount for a bondsman.

Since then, Reyna has selectively agreed to reduced bail for some of the bikers, but only with stringent conditions attached. He also slapped Matthew Clendennen, the first arrested biker to file a civil suit against the county, with a gag order to prevent his public criticism from influencing the jury pool.

Despite overwhelming the already-full county lockup and courts with scores of suspects, Reyna has adamantly kept the prosecution effort confined to his 27-lawyer office, refusing help from the state attorney general.

Reyna’s actions raise troubling questions. Why impose high bail and draconian gag orders on suspects with no criminal records? If the evidence against them is truly solid, why make it so hard for defendants’ counsel to even see it?

By reputation, McLennan County is another Ferguson, Missouri — a place where low-level crimes have become a profit center for a tax-strapped government. Given Texas’s cop-friendly civil asset forfeiture laws, some observers have wondered whether law enforcement decisions were unduly influenced by the value of all the motorcycles they confiscated after the shootout.

One Harley-Davidson dealer, who spoke to BU on condition of anonymity, says the approximate value of those bikes probably exceeds five million dollars. And whereas keeping the suspects in jail costs taxpayers upwards of $8,000 a day, assets seized in drug-related cases directly benefit law enforcement without recompense to the citizens of McLennan County.

According to the Dallas Observer, Texas law enforcement agencies have collected nearly half a billion dollars through asset forfeitures in the last decade.

BU will stay on top of this story.

This story has been edited to clarify which forensic results have been made public.

  • Wacky Waco

    Waco has always been a revenue generating town. If you jaywalk you’re probably going to jail, pay a heavy fine, and then end up on probation.

    • I was at Fort Hood in the ’90s and remember hearing about Waco’s reputation from people who lived there.

  • Tom B

    People forget women and children were burned alive in Waco over one person.What a sick town!

    • Yeah, if Janet Reno had done this, a full-blown RW reactionary freakout would be ongoing.

  • muselet

    This story has always had a faint whiff of unbelievability about it, especially once reports started to circulate that the security video didn’t match the police narrative. Now, with Abel Reyna’s office playing fast-and-loose with the rules of evidence, demanding excessive bail and seeking gag orders, that whiff has become a stench.

    No wonder the McLennan County DA’s office is insisting on handling the prosecutions in-house. Any outside attorney looking at this unholy mess would flee screaming, report the DA’s office to the state Bar for misconduct or both.

    This does have all the hallmarks of an asset-forfeiture operation gone horribly wrong. It would be interesting to find out who fired the first shot (my five bucks says it was a cop).

    –alopecia

    • Reyna has probably been holding out to get guilty pleas and flip them on one another like dominoes. But it looks like civil suits are going to cost Waco far more than they might have gotten out of seized motorcycles.

      • muselet

        For law enforcement, civil forfeiture is a can’t-lose proposition: in the unlikely event that there is a lawsuit, the city or county pays the judgment (actually, an insurance company pays the lion’s share), not the police department or sheriff’s office, and the cops still get the money. Otherwise, the cops get the money and the local pols get to pat themselves on the back for keeping taxes low (and yeah, okay, the insurance premiums go up a bit, but not by enough to be a deterrent).

        They’re gambling with someone else’s money.

        –alopecia

  • bbally

    The autopsy have been released. Downward angle of long rifle ammo for most victims. It was a gauntlet for police fun. Sgt. swine ton has been lying since minute one.

    • I did make an error in the story that I have corrected, however the ballistics reports have not been released.

      • A Dash

        they also had swat on site before the bikers arrived because they said they had knowledge crimes would be taking place

  • AK Rack

    “If they in fact knew beforehand of violent criminals among the clubs, Waco and McLennan County agencies have not explained why they waited until a large, mixed crowd had gathered around those persons before they moved to arrest anyone.”

    Waiting for a target rich environment?

  • A Dash

    its about time a left wing media site starts reporting facts. thank you.