Civil Liberties

Waco Biker Slaughter: $1 Million Dollar Bond Judge Who Wanted to "Send a Message" Removed from One Biker's Trial

Also: Why the police might be suppressing evidence, and speculation on the role of undercovers or informants on the scene


Despite such banana republic absurdities as a local police officer heading the grand jury likely responsible for any indictments related to the slaughter of motorcycle club members at a political meeting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas in May, one sign of procedural sanity happened this week, as reported in the Waco Tribune:

A local justice of the peace was removed Thursday from an examining trial in the case of a Hewitt biker accused of engaging in organized crime in relation to the shootout at Twin Peaks restaurant.

Joe Carroll, senior judge of the 27th Judicial District Court, granted a motion to recuse Justice of the Peace W.H. "Pete" Peterson from the case involving Matthew Clendennen after Clendennen's attorney, Clinton Broden,filed a complaint against Peterson.

Peterson set the initial $1 million bonds for the 177 bikers arrested in the aftermath of the May 17 shootout….

"I think it is important to send a message," Peterson said at the time. "We had nine people killed in our community. These people just came in, and most of them were from out of town. Very few of them were from in town."

Broden's complaint alleges Peterson's "public comments would cause persons to believe that they could not get a fair examining trial before Peterson."

In the complaint, he alleges it is unlawful to set bonds to "send a message" and that Peterson's quotes "indicate that he sets bonds out of bias against people who visit Waco."

I reported on Clendennen's suing over what he considers a false arrest back in June. Clendennen has since withdrawn that suit, though his lawyer says they intend to add defendants and start over.

As I've been noting here for a while, the government seems very inclined to not let the public (or any of the people it arrested) get any objective information about what actually happened that day. This week, Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic sums up the current state of things the cops are keeping under wraps.

  • When one of the arrested bikers, Matthew Clendennen, sued authorities, Waco's assistant city attorney fought to prevent him from getting access to video footage taken at the Twin Peaks restaurant, key evidence in the incident. While a judge ultimately ruled that his attorney must be allowed to see the footage, he barred its release to the public and imposed a gag order in the case.
  • The gag order was requested by McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, who is named in Clendennen's federal civil-rights suit––and granted by District Court Judge Matt Johnson, Reyna's former law partner, according to press reports.
  • Over two months have passed since the shooting. The dead bodies have long since been examined. Yet the public still hasn't been told how many of the gunshot victims were struck by bullets fired from police weapons. (I strongly suspect that if the answer was "zero" Waco police would've said so a long time ago.)

Friedersdorf floats a very damning but plausible theory as to why, especially given that they can't expect to get away with the stonewalling forever.

If there is video or ballistics evidence suggesting that lots of innocent people were arrested without probable cause, or that police bullets killed some of the dead that day in Waco, it will be a public-relations nightmare and a huge liability for Waco and its police department. Scores of bikers could sue for six- or seven-figure sums. And prosecutors might find it much more difficult to secure indictments in the case.

But if indictments can be filed before evidence inconvenient to Waco authorities is publicly revealed, the leverage changes. A biker might be indicted for conspiracy to murder, then offered a plea deal to accept a much lesser charge, like disturbing the peace, with the understanding that time served would take care of the sentence. That would be a tempting deal to take. And pleading guilty to disturbing the peace would preclude a lawsuit for being arrested without probable cause while saving police and prosecutors from looking like they harassed innocents.

Friedersdorf is also raising the question, ignored by most legit press, about the presence and role of undercovers and confidential informants among the bikers that day.

A blog called Aging Rebel has done a lot of very interesting reporting and speculation about the event, and reports on the mystery of the five people reportedly arrested and then "unarrested" on the scene.

He speculates:

 in ATF biker roundups, confidential informants are arrested with other suspects and then turned loose when nobody is looking…..

Since they were actually arrested, the men released in secret at dawn on May 18, were clearly not undercover agents. The Aging Rebel has been told and has reported that two members of the Cossacks Motorcycle Club took off their club insignia and put on police windbreakers and balaclavas shortly after the shooting stopped on May 17. They were probably undercover FBI or ATF agents. The Aging Rebel believes the men released on May 17 were part of an ongoing federal investigation that exploded into violence. Based on interview with numerous sources, The Aging Rebel believes the violence was instigated by federal agents, that it was unnecessary and that the blatant Waco coverup that has ensued is intended to protect federal, state and local policeman from civil and criminal liability and embarrassment.

Despite the official embargoing of video from the Twin Peaks restaurant itself, portions of on-the-scene surveillance footage from the Don Carlos restaurant across the street has been leaked, and Aging Rebel has a great close read analysis of it, which is inconclusive about any of the vital questions of who shot who and why.

Aging Rebel does think he saw a clear example of evidence being planted on the scene though:

Six seconds later one of the operators, a gray haired man wearing a light orange shirt and a machine gun, walks toward the apparent body. He disappears briefly as he talks to a uniformed cop at about 1:21:07 p.m. Then at 1:21:35 he clearly and unmistakably places something on the ground of this crime scene. Then he quickly walks away.

At 1:59:31 p.m. a uniformed officer walks over to the evidence planted by the plain clothes cop and marks it as evidence. Presumably, it is now part of the official case against the 177 men and women who were arrested but not "unarrested."

That Don Carlos video: