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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Editorial: In Waco case, biker gangs earning more trust than prosecutors

 In this May 17 file photo, authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas. Police were among those firing weapons during the deadly shootout, though it remains unclear if police bullets caused any of the nine fatalities, according to evidence reviewed by The Associated Press.
Published: 26 October 2015 03:55 PM
Updated: 26 October 2015 10:47 PM

    Editorial: We appeal to the court: End gag order in Waco bikers case
    Reports: Waco prosecutors withheld public information on May shootout

Right after the May 17 motorcycle-gang shootout in Waco, this newspaper’s inclination was to believe law enforcers’ account that the nine deaths and 22 injuries were the result of hardened criminal thugs waging a deadly turf battle. But the longer this bizarre case plays out, the more credible the bikers look, and the more it appears that McLennan County officials have something to hide.

The state attorney general’s office has told McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna to stop withholding text messages that were sought to shed light on how officials behaved after the shootout at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco. Police were on hand, guns at the ready, when a brawl erupted in the Twin Peaks parking lot.

A retired sheriff’s deputy, Randall Gates, asked the attorney general’s office to intervene after he was repeatedly rebuffed in efforts to learn about backroom negotiations that let some of the 177 arrested bikers receive reduced bail-bond assessments. The judge in the case initially set bail at $1 million for each suspect.

Gates wanted to know whether lower amounts were negotiated in exchange for some bikers’ waiving their right to sue for wrongful incarceration. Nothing has surfaced to confirm his suspicions. But Gates was stymied in at least three bids to force Reyna to turn over copies of text messages that could explain how the negotiations transpired.

Why does McLennan County have a problem with transparency? A series of actions by officials and the judge overseeing the case provide ample cause for the public to doubt this entire process.

For example, District Judge Matt Johnson issued a gag order that prohibited all arrested bikers from talking about the case. As of Monday, 162 days had passed since the shootout, yet not a single charge has been filed for the nine deaths. Yet no one is allowed to talk.

One biker, Matthew Clendennen, felt compelled to sue, arguing that the gag order is unconstitutional. Others complain that the blanket nature of the bail assessments treated all 177 suspects as equally culpable. All were painted with the same presumption of guilt even though it’s now clear that many were non-combatants who were fleeing the gunfire and simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two-thirds of those arrested had no prior convictions.

Additional confusion reigns over who did the shooting. Initial law enforcement assertions laid blame on the bikers. But evidence now indicates that police gunfire added to the melee.

The public’s natural tendency in a high-profile case like this is to seek information so we can sift the bad from good and lies from truth. Waco officials seem willing to risk a loss of public trust in order to maintain a stranglehold on information.

By the numbers

177 number arrested after the shootout

135 number of suspects originally required to wear ankle monitors

22 number still required to wear them as of September

9 deaths that resulted from the shootout

0 indictments for the shooting deaths