1 biker has posted $1-million bond; Waco court strained by arrests

Waco court system is struggling to process 177 arrests

The legal aftermath of the deadly biker shootout in Waco, Texas, Wednesday continued to grow complicated as the first person to be charged in the violence prepared to be released after posting $1-million bond.

Nine men were shot to death and 18 people were injured Sunday inside and outside the Twin Peaks restaurant. Police said Wednesday they have recovered more than 1,000 weapons, including knives, guns and a high-powered assault rifle from the scene and from vehicles.

At least 177 people have been arrested and are being held on $1-million bail apiece, facing state charges of engaging in an organized crime enterprise. The enterprise is capital murder—the deaths of the nine bikers—although no one has been charged with this yet. The number of arrests, the need to find prosecutors and defense attorneys coupled with the size of the bond are straining the local legal system.

Officials have had to secure legal counsel for defendants, many of whom have said they are too poor to hire their own attorneys. McLennan County maintains a panel of lawyers to represent those who are too poor to hire outside counsel, but there are just 100 such attorneys and many of them do not do the kind of felony proceedings that have stemmed from Sunday’s violence.

“It’s been a nightmare,” said one county employee who asked not to be identified because she works in the court system.

Arraignments for the 177 have taken place in recent days and one of the men could be released as soon as Wednesday. Two bond reduction hearings are scheduled for June 5, court officials said.

In addition to the sizable bond, the court has also imposed conditions on those who pay it. Defendants will be required to wear a GPS monitoring device, are prohibited from using narcotics or alcohol and cannot possess illegal weapons or guns. They are also barred from associating or even communicating with members of biker gangs.

Some bikers who were at the scene of the violence but were not arrested are afraid to come forward and give their account of the bloodbath because they’re afraid of being charged as gang members, says William A. Smith, a Dallas-based attorney who has spoken to multiple bikers who attended the gathering of at least five motorcycle groups Sunday at the Twin Peaks restaurant.

“It’s got a lot of folks on edge, and I don’t know that there’s any bail bondsman in Waco, in the county, McLennan, that’s capable or willing of writing $1-million bond,” said Dallas-based attorney William A. Smith, who represents one of the incarcerated men. “So these guys could be in there a long time.”

McLennan County Justice of the Peace Walter H. “Pete” Peterson, who set many of the $1-million bonds, has defended the amount, arguing he had to weigh the individuals’ civil rights against the interests of public safety. He said the bonds were “adequate” given the pending investigation and “because of the magnitude of the situation and the total disregard for the safety of others.”

Other lawyers disagreed, including Robert Draskovich, a Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer who represented a member of the Hells Angels in another mass biker arrest case in 2002 in Laughlin, Nev.

In the Laughlin case, the Hells Angels tangled with another group, the Mongols. Three people were killed and about a dozen others were injured in a shooting and knifing near a casino and hotel. All were attending an annual motorcycle rally.

About 120 people were detained; 44 Hells Angels were eventually indicted on federal charges, but only seven were convicted. All were able to post bail, which was far less than the amount in Waco and some defendants did not have bail as the proceedings went on.

Six Mongols members eventually pleaded guilty to state charges.

A $1-million bail for a murder case would not be unreasonable, Draskovich said. But he questioned that large amount for all of the defendants, who were likely in different places and acted in various ways.

“This is wholly unreasonable,” Draskovich told the Los Angeles Times. “Bail should be tailored to the individual circumstances.”

“I have defended cases in Waco and there is nothing usual there. There is a strange religious feeling there,” Draskovich said of Waco, calling it “all about punishment and the Old Testament.”

Draskovich said he expected the majority of the defendants would “eventually walk on the charges.”

Meanwhile, the Central Texas Marketplace Shopping Center fully reopened for business on Wednesday.

Before the shootings, at least 18 Waco police officers had been stationed in the shopping center parking lot along with state officers. As many as four officers fired their weapons after people inside the restaurant were already exchanging gunfire and the violence spilled onto the parking lot with bikers turning their fire on officers, police officials have said.

The preliminary autopsies indicate those who were killed, ages 27 to 65 years old, died from gunshot wounds, according to records released by the McLennan County Justice of the Peace. It will take further testing to determine who fired the fatal shots.

The dead were members of two groups: the Bandidos, the state’s largest motorcycle gang, and the Cossacks, an up-and-coming gang that has clashed with the Bandidos, police said.

Most of the 18 bikers who were injured have been released from the hospital. No police or bystanders were injured.

Katie Rhoten told the Associated Press that her husband, Theron, ran for cover and was later arrested, along with antique motorcycle enthusiast friends and other “nonviolent, noncriminal people” at the gathering designed as a meeting of biker groups to discuss issues such as pending safety legislation.

“He's good to his family,” she said. “He doesn't drink; he doesn't do drugs; he doesn't party. He's just got a passion for motorcycles.”

Officials have painted a different picture. They have said that the meeting included talks between the Bandidos and the Cossacks designed to settle differences, including turf. Officials have also cited a long-standing rivalry between the groups that have included assaults in other parts of the state, including the Dallas area.

The U.S. Justice Department said in a report on outlaw motorcycle gangs that the Bandidos “constitute a growing criminal threat.” The report said the group is involved in transporting and distributing cocaine and marijuana and in the production and distribution of methamphetamine.

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Waco and Muskal from Los Angeles. Staff writer Matt Pearce contributed from Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
83°