It seems more and more that, if this was really a gang fight, that the police would not be hiding the evidence.
When I first heard about the Twin Peaks shootings and the arrests, it was because some of the conservative blogs found the Waco Police Department’s story did not make sense. Then NPR joined in and pointed out some more reason to believe that innocent people were being prosecuted. Now Conor Friedersdorf is writing about it in the Atlantic: “Waco Is Suppressing Evidence That Could Clear Innocent Bikers.”
Why is Waco, Texas, fighting to suppress multiple videos of the shootout that killed nine bikers at the Twin Peaks restaurant on May 17? Why are some attorneys in the case now prohibited from talking to the press? And why haven’t Waco officials revealed how many of the nine victims were killed by bullets from police officers’ guns?
These are the most pressing questions as 177 people await a grand jury’s decision about whether they will be indicted for murder, conspiracy, or on lesser charges after attending a regularly scheduled meeting of motorcycle enthusiasts that turned violent.
Friedersdorf ticks off several suspicious activities: The grand jury is “being led by a longtime detective in the Waco police department” even though the WPD stands to lose millions if they do not indict the people they have accused of murder. One person who sued the police department demanded to see the video footage of the events and the prosecutor fought hard to keep that video secret. It has still not been released to the public. Also, two months after the crime the police will still not say “how many of the gunshot victims were struck by bullets fired from police weapons.”
Another issue is that District Court Judge Matt Johnson granted the gag order preventing the release of the video to the public. McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna made the request for the gag order. Reyna is named in the lawsuit. Reyna and Johnson used to be law partners.
What would be the police department’s goal in keeping the evidence secret?
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.