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Bikers say mass arrests at Twin Peaks shootout violated civil rights


Highlights

The lawsuit accuses police of arresting men for biker gang membership and of violating their civil rights.

The suit, which asks for unspecified damages, is the latest challenge to mass arrests after the shooting.

Twenty bikers arrested following a shootout at a Waco-area Twin Peaks restaurant in 2015 have filed a federal lawsuit in Austin accusing local and state law enforcement agencies of violating their civil rights.

It’s the latest legal challenge brought against the Waco Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety for their actions in the aftermath of the melee, which left 9 dead and 20 injured.

The 20 bikers who brought Monday’s civil case were among the 177 arrested and charged with engaging in organized crime with intent to murder, a first-degree felony, the suit states.

“There’s not one shred of evidence of pre-planning,” said attorney Don Tittle, who is representing the bikers. “There is nothing to support the narrative the police have been telling that would suggest this was a pre-planned shoot out.”

This suit, which asks for unspecified damages, is one of at least a dozen Tittle said he has brought since the shooting.

“There are pending criminal matters and civil lawsuits, and the City of Waco chooses to litigate these matters in the courts,” Waco City Attorney Jennifer Richie said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office, which represents DPS, declined to comment. The area district attorney’s office, which is also named in the suit, did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

According to authorities, the firefight at Twin Peaks erupted after a confrontation between two rival gangs spun out of control. Four of the nine killed there were likely shot by law enforcement, ballistic reports obtained by the Associated Press suggest.

Officials said they were no stranger to the bar or the two groups involved: the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, described as the dominant gang in the state; or the upstart Cossacks Motorcycle Club. Rumors of turf fights were circulating and police had put the Twin Peaks under surveillance after it began hosting biker events.

While the suit acknowledges that 20 plaintiffs were members of the Bandidos, it argues that arresting them for that reason alone is of violation of their civil rights.

“They’re effectively arresting them and charging them with participating in organized crime on the basis of nothing more than their membership in the Bandidos,” Tittle said. “Regardless of one’s opinion of the Bandidos, police do not have the right to arrest someone because they are a member of that club.”

The suit names Waco police Chief Brent Stroman, Assistant Chief Robert Lanning, Waco police detectives Manuel Chavez and Jefferey Rogers, Waco police officer Patrick Swanton, McLennan County district attorney Abelino Reyna, DPS special agents Steven Schwartz and Christopher Frost, the city of Waco and McLennan County as defendants.

It comes half a year after two Central Texas men, William Redding and Thomas Landers, who were also arrested at Twin Peaks and charged with organized crime, filed a suit alleging that their rights were violated by authorities. They were both members of the Escondidos Motorcycle Club, which has a similar patch to the Bandidos.

Months before, in May 2016, three other bikers filed suit in federal court in Austin, accusing Waco police violated their rights. At the time, it was already one of at least 10 lawsuits stemming from the mass arrest.

While none of the 20 plaintiffs in Monday’s suit hails from Central Texas, the list includes seven from Bexar County, including Richard Benavides, Juventino Montellano, John Guerrero, Lindell Copeland, Rudy Mercado, Lawrence Garcia and Larry Piña.



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