All 9 men killed in Waco died from gunshot wounds, officials confirm

Violent biker confrontations in December may have been forerunners of Texas melee

All nine men who were killed in the bloody shootout in a parking lot in Waco, Texas, died from gunshot wounds, according to preliminary autopsies released Tuesday.

The men who police said were members of rival motorcycle gangs, the Bandidos and Cossacks, died after a dispute that apparently began in the parking lot moved indoors to the Twin Peaks restaurant, then went back outdoors on Sunday.

Officials at the Dallas medical examiner’s office told the Los Angeles Times that the autopsies were being done there, but that additional work was pending.

The office of the justice of the peace, Walter H. "Pete" Peterson, in Waco confirmed that the preliminary autopsies were released.

Three of the dead were found in the parking lot just outside the restaurant, four were found in front of a building there, and one had been dragged behind a neighboring restaurant, police said Monday. The ninth person died at a hospital.

The dead men ranged in age from 27 to 65, and some were shot in the head, neck or torso.

As many as four officers fired their guns during a biker gang battle that that left nine dead, 18 injured and at least 170 jailed, Waco Police Department spokesman Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said Tuesday.

In a departure from department policy, the officers involved in the shooting remain on duty, Swanton said.

“Typically, our first concern is the welfare and mental health of those officers,” he said, but “because of the high threat level … we kept them here.”

Waco police are continuing their investigation into Sunday’s violence, which is believed to be related to rivalries between the Bandidos and the Cossacks, Swanton said. Police were going to remove about 135 motorcycles and as many as 80 vehicles from the shopping center parking lot where some of the violence unfolded.

Earlier threats against law enforcement officers have “toned down,” he said.

“Is this over? Most likely not,” Swanton said of the biker battle. “We would ask that there be some kind of truce.”

Police are still investigating what sparked the shooting on Sunday, which happened during a regional biker meeting at the Twin Peaks restaurant.

“An additional bike gang that was not invited to this meeting showed up,” Swanton said.

Two arguments broke out between bikers from the rival clubs, one inside the restaurant and one in the parking lot, possibly related to someone’s foot being run over and a “turf war,” Swanton said.

Investigators are questioning those arrested, Swanton said, but “you have people not being truthful with us about what went on at the restaurant.”

“We will figure it out,” he said, but he added that the investigation may take months.

Swanton said authorities had yet to determine how many of the dead and wounded may have been shot by officers. “The autopsies have not been completed, and it is impossible to determine that” until they are done, he said. The identities of the dead have not been released.

Eleven of the injured were discharged from hospitals Tuesday, Swanton said. The seven still hospitalized were all in stable condition, “and most are improving,” he said.

He said more arrests were possible, but it was not yet clear whether those released from the hospital would be charged in connection with the shooting.

“There has been enough tragedy and bloodshed in Waco, Texas,” Swanton said. “We would appreciate that there not be more.”

Members of the Bandidos, the state’s largest biker gang, and the Cossacks, a newer, much smaller group, have tangled before in the Dallas area: Just before Christmas there was a beating at a Toys for Tots charity event in Decatur, and a slaying in a Fort Worth bar.

No charges were filed in the Toys for Tots attack. But three alleged members of the Bandidos face murder charges in connection with the bar killing. 

Gilberto “Gil” Torrez, a retired FBI agent now working as a private investigator in the Dallas area, called the December violence “typical feuds within gangs.”

Those events could have contributed to tensions during a biker meeting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco.

“It started the avalanche,” Torrez, who has investigated motorcycle gangs, said of the earlier confrontations.

“Those kinds of brawls or altercations probably happen more often than the public is aware of,” he said. “This may have started something, an all-out gang retaliation situation.”

The two biker groups have been jostling for some time under the radar, Torrez said. He called the Twin Peaks shooting uniquely savage.

“In my career in law enforcement, I never saw such a public display of violence by the gangs. Usually it happens in private over money or territory issues, or the wrong biker walks into the wrong bar and they teach him a lesson,” Torrez said.

He said Texas law enforcement officials are concerned bikers may still be out for payback. “They’re very aware it could break into some more serious retaliation,” Torrez said.

But he said the large number of arrests would probably help investigators head off further violence.

“Every time you do that, you gain a lot of intelligence, a lot of knowledge,” he said.

“There’s always somebody willing to fight but who’s not true to the colors, he’s not willing to go back to prison. In a group that large, you’re likely to get some who are more cooperative," Torrez said. "And the best information is always from somebody who was there.” 

So many people were arrested in connection with the Sunday violence that judges were still processing suspects. About 50 were expected to be arraigned at the jail Tuesday, staff members said.

Bail has been running at $1 million each for the defendants facing organized crime charges. Some could face capital murder charges as well, officials said.

Three motorcycle gang members arrested in connection with the shootout were mistakenly released from jail after their bails were improperly reduced, local judges said Tuesday.

"There's still some confusion about what happened," District Judge Ralph Strother said.

"In the fog of war of everything that was going on, some of that first group [arraigned] did not get charged with what the rest of them were charged with," he said. As a result the trio had their bonds reduced from $1 million to $50,000.

"When we found out about that this morning, we found those bonds to be insufficient" and issued new arrest warrants for the three, Strother said.

Two of those three surrendered to authorities later in the day, police said. The third man reportedly turned himself in late Tuesday night.

Strother said he and another judge also issued an order Tuesday that no other bond be lowered from $1 million without the approval of a district judge. The jurist said criminal defense attorneys will be assigned to indigent defendants, and they have requested additional lawyers from nearby counties to help handle the large number of cases.

The Bandidos gang has as many as 2,500 members in 14 countries, and, according to the Justice Department, is engaged in distribution of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. One of their mottoes: “We’re the people your parents warned you about.”

“They were once the terrors of Texas, so fearsome that when a rumor spread through a town that they were coming, people literally headed inside their homes and locked their doors,” Skip Hollandsworth wrote of the Bandidos in Texas Monthly in 2007.

In this case, the Cossacks gang appears to have decided to engage with the far larger Bandidos group, according to accounts from some of those familiar with the gathering.

The occasion was a publicly scheduled meeting of the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents, a grass-roots gathering called to discuss legislative and safety issues, according to William A. Smith, a Dallas-based attorney and biker. “They happen about every other month,” he said, and had always unfolded without violence.

The purported dispute involving the Bandidos and the Cossacks had its roots in 2013, said former Bandido leader Edward Winterhalder, who now writes books on motorcycle gangs and consults on television shows. The Cossacks club, which was founded in Texas in 1969, offended the Bandidos when it affixed the word “Texas” to the bottom of its colors, a territory-claiming patch also known as the “bottom rocker,” he said.

The Bandidos swiftly warned the Cossacks to remove the label, Winterhalder said, but the Cossacks refused.

Fistfights escalated to worse violence, including an incident in December 2013 when a Bandido leader was accused of stabbing two Cossacks in Abilene, Texas.

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Waco. Muskal reported from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Lauren Raab in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

 

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

9:01 p.m: This story was updated with new details including the reported surrender of a third man who was mistakenly released.

3:02 p.m.: This story was updated with the surrender of two men who were mistakenly released.

2:41 p.m.:  This story was updated with preliminary autopsy results.

12:07 p.m.: This story was updated with information on criminal proceedings.

10:14 a.m.: This story was updated with information from Waco police briefing. 

This story was originally posted at 9:04 a.m.

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