After a biker brawl that escalated into a bloodbath at a restaurant over the weekend, a key unanswered question remains: How many of the nine dead were shot by police?
Waco authorities said Tuesday they did not have an answer and did not know when they would. The investigation is expected to take weeks or longer as police try to unravel a complicated web of bullet trajectories, shell casings and medical forensics following the violent free-for-all Sunday involving more than 170 suspects and nearly two dozen police officers that also left 18 people wounded.
Brief, preliminary autopsy reports released Tuesday said all the dead men, ages 27 to 65 and members of the rival Bandidos or Cossacks motorcycle gangs, died of gunshot wounds. Some were shot in the head, neck or torso.
Police have said they began firing into the melee only after people outside the Twin Peaks restaurant were already exchanging gunfire.
“There were multiple people on the scene firing weapons at each other,” said Waco Police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, adding that officers responded to the fight within 60 seconds. “They then turned on our officers. Our officers returned gunfire, wounding and possibly killing several.”
Addressing one unconfirmed media report that four of the nine dead were shot by officers, Swanton said it would be up to investigators to find the answer.
“Is it possible? Yes. Is it a fact? No, because the autopsies are not complete.”
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said officers “responded very swiftly and proficiently to a very bad and dangerous situation.”
Police say a total of 18 Waco police officers, plus a contingent of state troopers, had been positioned outside the long-scheduled social gathering of loosely affiliated biker groups, anticipating trouble. When the violence erupted, authorities said, as many as four police officers may have fired their weapons.
“They felt their lives were in danger. You have to neutralize the threat,” the sheriff said. “Their quick action resulted in saving more lives.... You can’t second-guess if you have something under surveillance and it breaks loose.”
But biker club leaders and their attorneys are questioning the police account of what happened.
“Of the nine people who were killed, how many were killed by police?” asked William A. Smith, a Dallas defense attorney known for representing Texas bikers.
Lawyers have also raised questions about the arrest of 170 suspects, most now charged with engaging in organized criminal activity and ordered held in lieu of $1-million bond. Many, they say, were not members of the Bandidos or Cossacks, but were weekend motorcyclists who wound up as bystanders at a gang fight.
“We got mom-and-pop clubs, veteran clubs, religion clubs, all clubs in Texas were at that meeting — different kind of clubs from everywhere,” said a top Bandidos member from Austin, Texas, who would give only his nickname, Gimmi Jimmy, and who had been scheduled to speak at the Sunday biker meet-up but arrived late.
He said innocent people had been wrongfully jailed, and Bandidos supporters were working to get attorneys for the imprisoned bikers.
“It’s time to quit talking and start fighting,” he said.
Jimmy Dan Smith, a 59-year-old mechanic who was among those arrested, belongs to the Line Riders, a small club, said his attorney, Dan Jones. Smith had gone to the restaurant that day to meet other members and hear a speaker.
“He didn’t do anything,” Jones said, adding that Smith didn’t have any weapons and — at the suggestion of paramedics after ambulances filled up — had taken an injured biker to the hospital. “Nobody’s been able to give me any information about why he was charged with these crimes. He was just there. I don’t understand why he is sitting in jail on such a high bond,” Jones said.
“I totally understand a strong law enforcement response to people shooting at each other,” he said. “But whatever happens between the Bandidos and Cossacks has nothing to do with the Line Riders.”
The meeting was a publicly scheduled Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents grass-roots gathering, typically held to discuss legislative and safety issues, an event that has happened regularly across the state for years without violence, according to biker advocates.
Biker Johnny “Melon” Snyder, a member of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club, was at the Waco meeting.
He had no criticism of how police responded or their decision to open fire.
“The police were professional, considering the situation they were in. They were professional and doing their job,” he said.
After the shooting, Snyder said he and other members of his club cooperated with authorities.
“We were not arrested. We were detained and questioned. Everyone on scene was detained and questioned. Some were sent home and some were not, and I don’t know why,” he said.
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Waco and Pearce from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Michael Muskal in Los Angeles contributed to this report.