It was May 17, 2015, shortly after noon in the parking lot of a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas. Little is known about what started it. Some say it was a fight over a parking space that led to a patron’s foot being run over. And suddenly in the mix – a flurry of gunfire.
Videos released later showed patrons running for their lives, some covered in blood. And now that the dust has settled, there are still many questions and few answers.
After two years, nine deaths, 18 injuries and nearly 177 arrests, there’s still no end in sight.
And when it comes to one of the deadliest shootouts in U.S. history, the majority of reporting seems to focus on the tangled nest of legal battles – including fights over court-issued gag orders, $1 million bonds and accusations of wrongful arrests.
Just last week, four bikers added yet another lawsuit to the growing pile of litigation – this time asking for $1 billion in damages. That lawsuit points fingers at everyone from police detectives to the owners of the Twin Peaks restaurant where the shooting occurred. Even so, the one trial everyone seems to be waiting for – the first criminal trial – hasn’t happened.
Mitchel Roth, a professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University says that part of the slowdown is due to the involvement of a complex and relatively unknown criminal organization.
“The Bandidos have pretty much kept a very low profile for so long,” Roth says. “It’s very difficult infiltrating them compared to the other major motorcycle gangs. The others have been infiltrated but they haven’t really done that to the Bandidos yet, because they have really good counter intelligence etc etc.”
The first of the bikers indicted were expected to have their day in court this spring. Those trials were delayed after McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said that evidence relating to the Bandidos and their role in the shooting had been brought up in a separate federal trial targeting members of the organization. That information wouldn’t be shared with the County until after the federal trial wraps up, and the federal case could be prolonged.
Casie Gotro, a defense attorney representing a party involved in the case, says that the evidence in the federal trial has nothing to do with her client, and she can’t understand why Reyna, the prosecutor, seems to want to delay the case.
“Mr Reyna started trying to get his hands on federal evidence,” Gotro says. “And he has never once, not once, disclosed the name of a defendant, asked for favorable evidence to that defendant, or even explained the nature of the state’s prosecution ”
That federal evidence appears to be centered on investigations into the Bandidos organization. But many of the 140 defendants indicted, including Gotro’s client, say they don’t have any connection to the Bandidos.
“I don’t know how they are using that phantom evidence,” Gotro says “if it even exists, to delay trying folks that weren’t affiliated with the Bandidos.”
Prosecutors claim that the evidence from the federal case is needed in order to comply with Texas’ Michael Morton Act, a disclosure law that requires prosecutors to turn over any evidence that might help a criminal defendant. Defense attorneys seem to be at a loss as to why prosecutors are so eager to get such evidence – especially considering that the defendants themselves are hungry for a chance to be heard. Two years after the Twin Peaks shooting, no one knows when, or even if, opening arguments in a single case will proceed.