Nearly four years ago, over 170 people were arrested after a violent altercation outside a meeting of motorcycle club members at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, was swarmed by police, who had already surrounded the meeting before anything untoward occurred. Nine people were killed and 18 wounded in the melee. This week, the last of the initial set of charges was dropped after a special prosecutorial team didn't like what it saw.
From the start, lawyers and others pointed out that it was very unlikely indeed that all the arrested had committed any crimes at all, and that the initial $1 million bond for all of them charged with a blanket crime of "engaging in organized criminal activity" seemed unreasonably punitive. The police strove in the aftermath to keep a detailed account of what actually happened from reaching the public eye, or that of defense attorneys.
As the years under which those people had criminal charges hanging over their heads went by—with all the problems that come with that on top of the missed work and rent and family responsibilities that bedeviled them from their initial time in custody under that absurd bond—dozens of the arrested went unindicted as grand juries expired, and last year charges began to be dropped against many of the defendants, with not a single successful prosecution having happened yet nearly four years after the mass arrests.
Many of the bikers who had charges eventually dropped have filed civil rights suits against local police and district attorneys over the absurd arrests and incredibly long times to get any of them to trial.
This week the whole case continued its painfully slow unraveling, as three more bikers, the last still facing that first set of indictments, saw their cases dismissed. A team of special prosecutors eventually assigned to the case declared that the initial mass arrests seemed, in the words of one of them, Brian Roberts, "simply a shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality….I can't imagine what (former McLennan County DA) Abel Reyna was thinking other than this was a big case and it was somehow going to be beneficial for him or his office," the Waco Tribune reports.
Roberts went on to echo the critiques against the Waco prosecution heard by many lawyers and media watchers over the years: Namely, that the bogus arrests hung over so many people's heads for far too long. "I do have a very serious problem as a lawyer with the wholesale charging of people without an investigation….It is just patently offensive to me. Justice is the sword and the shield. You had a number of folks who never should have been charged and whose lives have been turned upside down unnecessarily, and that is something you can't change. You can't take back what has happened over the last four years."
Reyna, the D.A. at the time of the arrests, lost re-election to the office last year, and had already, the Tribune reports, "dismissed the vast majority of the 154 pending indictments his office sought in the Twin Peaks shootout." Yet he then "re-indicted 25 Twin Peaks defendants on different charges in May, with most being charged with riot and three being charged with murder and riot. District Attorney Barry Johnson, who took office in January, has said he and his staff are reviewing those cases to determine how to proceed."
In a phone interview this morning, lawyer Paul Looney says he is trying to get one of those re-indictments for a client tossed out as well, and is just moving into the discovery phase of a civil suit for another one of his clients whose charges were dropped.