Civil Liberties

4 Reasons that Waco Biker Gang Shootout Reflects Badly on Police

One of the bikers arrested sues Waco police for having no cause for the arrest.


What was initially reported as a motorcycle gang shootout that killed nine and wounded 18 to which police heroically responded last month in Waco, TX, at the Twin Peaks restaurant seems a bit more complicated, and bit worse for the cops, than that as further details have been revealed.

This week one of the people arrested at the scene, Matthew Clendennen, filed a lawsuit directly against the officers involved in the incident (Manuel Chavez by name, the others as John and Jane Does) as well as the city.

From that suit filing, in which Mr. Clendennen presents himself as a man with no criminal record, former fireman, small business owner on whom employees depend, and father of three who also depend on his ability to earn income, not to rot in jail. He insists he committed no crime and had no intention of committing any crime when he was arrested while in the Twin Peaks restaurant in the aftermath of the shooting event, and that:

Despite the fact that…Clendennen committed no criminal acts he was arrested at Twin Peaks on or about May 17, 2015 without probable cause and his motorcycle  was illegally seized….On or about May 18, 2015, Chavez, aided by [unnamed other police officers], presented a criminal complaint (the "criminal complaint") against…Clendennen to Justice of the Peace Walter H. "Pete" Peterson (Peterson)….The criminal complaint alleges that Plaintiff Matthew Alan Clendennen committed the capital offense of engaging in organized criminal activity and is attached hereto as Attachment A.

It is believed that Peterson was chosen by Chavez, Does 1-10 and Does 11-20 because he is a former Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper with no formal legal training……the identical criminal complaint used in Plaintiff Matthew Alan Clendennen's case was used to justify the arrest of more than 100 other individuals and only the names were changed in the various criminal complaints.

The complaint alleges absolutely no individualize probable cause to establish that Plaintiff Matthew Alan Clendennen engaged in organized criminal activity. Moreover, Chavez…failed to inform Peterson that Plaintiff Matthew Alan Clendennen was not a member of the Cossacks nor the Bandidos and that he did not participate in any of the violence occurring at Twin Peaks but instead hid from the violence.

Clendennen is claiming that 170 people on the scene were just rounded up and arrested, in many cases had their motorcycles stolen by police, and were given a uniform $1 million dollar bond with no particular individual reason to believe they had committed any crime at all. He's actually trying to hit not just the city government, but the specific officers who arrested him, with liability for violating his rights. He claims to be at risk of losing both any custody of two of his children and his landscaping business while in jail.

According to this local NBC report, it will be months before those arrested at Twin Peaks get a probable cause hearing. But this week the insanely high bond was reduced for many of them, and some of them started getting out.

There are at least four reasons to wonder if the police account and actions about the motorcycle gang shootout that they allege to have pacified are above reproach:

1) As Clendennen's lawsuit notes, there is insufficient reason to believe that all the 170 arrested even committed any actual crime.

2) The police originally claimed that all those they arrested were members of the two "criminal gangs" most implicated in the deaths, the Bandidos and Cossacks; Associated Press found that not only were they not all members of those specific gangs, but whatever the criminality of the gangs, 115 of the arrested had no criminal records in Texas at least.

3) The police originally claimed over 1,000 weapons were confiscated on site, a number then downgraded to 318; but having a weapon on one's person is neither evidence of having committed nor having planned to commit a crime, but certainly can when announced to the press make some nervous people think, wow, glad the police started opening fire on that crowd!

4) Despite police reports that the fighting and shooting began inside the restaurant and spilled out, closed-circuit footage of the restaurant seen by AP and reports from the restaurateurs to the AP indicate the shooting began outside, which is where the police already were.

The police were already surrounding the restaurant in force, ready for action. Exactly how and why they began firing on the bikers and what happened before then should not necessarily be trusted merely from their mouths. They still have not officially announced how many of the dead or wounded were shot by police themselves.