Twin Peaks Massacre: City of Waco, McLennan County, and Abel Reyna ask U.S. Supreme Court to review reinstatement of lawsuits filed by bikers
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The city of Waco, McLennan County, former District Attorney Abel Reyna and other remaining defendants in lawsuits filed by bikers arrested after the deadly 2015 Twin Peaks shootout are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a recent decision by a federal appeals court.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in April reinstated - at least temporarily – the lawsuits of about 90 bikers whose civil rights cases were dismissed last year by U.S. District Judge Alan Albright of Waco.
The federal appeals court panel reversed an Albright ruling that held a grand jury’s indictment of the 90 bikers “served to break the chain of causation” for their false arrest claims and sent the cases back to Albright for further action in the wake of the court’s ruling.
Waco City Attorney Jennifer Richie said, “We disagree with the 5th Circuit’s recent decision in the Twin Peaks cases and are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review parts of the ruling.”
The 5th Circuit opinion put the civil rights cases of about 90 bikers back in play and instructs Albright to determine if each defendant has alleged adequate claims that they were falsely arrested after the melee that left nine dead and 20 injured. The ruling did not affect the pending cases of about 34 bikers who were not indicted.
Attorneys for the bikers challenged the validity of the arrest warrant affidavits, claiming the 192 bikers arrested were charged in identical, “cookie-cutter” documents with engaging in organized criminal activity that did not take each biker’s actions or individual culpabilities into account. The bikers all were jailed under $1 million bonds, including some bikers who were just getting off their bikes when the brawl started and some who hadn’t even pulled into the parking lot.
Dallas attorneys Tom Brandt, who represents McLennan County and former DA Reyna, and Don Tittle, who represents the majority of the bikers, both said the U.S. Supreme Court only agrees to hear about 1% to 3% of the cases filed with the nation’s highest court.
Brandt said the court could notify the parties in coming weeks about whether it will accept the case or not.
“Whether they agree to accept it is above my pay grade,” Brandt said. “But I do believe we have produced a cogent argument for the Supreme Court to look at. The 5th Circuit’s decision deviates from a longstanding rule that the Supreme Court has upheld. So we think grand jury indictments are final determinations of probable cause and the court has said that in the past in no uncertain terms and we hope they will take the case.”
Tittle noted that the civil cases have been pending more than seven years and said his clients’ patience levels are running low.
“Lately, the wheels of justice have sort of ground to a halt on these cases,” Tittle said. “What do they say? Justice delayed is justice denied, and I’m sure some of my clients are starting to feel that way. Hopefully, the court will rule soon and we can get the wheels moving again.
“If the court goes with what the city and county are claiming, it would be the end of all these cases and every other false arrest case in the country. It would completely do away with the idea that someone could bring a lawsuit for civil rights violations,” Tittle said.
Of the 192 arrested, 155 were indicted. Those cases, which flooded the dockets of the county’s two felony courts, resulted in only one trial, which ended in a hung jury and a mistrial. The remaining cases eventually were dismissed by Reyna, before he left office, and current lame duck DA Barry Johnson.
The bikers’ lawsuits claim they were falsely arrested without probable cause and that the grand jury could not have received a thorough presentation of the facts of the shootout because they allege it took an average of mere minutes to approve an indictment in each of the 155 cases. They also allege the grand jury was not shown video footage of the clash between the Bandidos and the Cossacks and their support groups that could have cleared many of wrongdoing.
The 5th Circuit’s ruling said that by dismissing the suits of the indicted bikers, Albright did so through “a legal erroneous application” of the independent intermediary doctrine. The doctrine, as interpreted by the 5th Circuit, states that even if an officer makes a false arrest and violates the detainee’s Fourth Amendment rights, the officer will not be liable if the facts supporting the arrest are put before an impartial intermediary, such as a magistrate or a grand jury, and the intermediary finds probable cause.
“Because the district court concluded that the independent intermediary doctrine applied, it did not discuss the merits of the plaintiffs’ false arrest claims,” the opinion states. “But the nature of the plaintiffs’ false arrest claims is relevant to our inquiry here because they argue, in essence, that the independent intermediary doctrine should not apply to the grand jury’s indictment because the grand jury was misled in the very same way as the magistrate who issued the arrest warrants.”
The initial lawsuits named the city of Waco; McLennan County; former Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman, Assistant Police Chief Robert Lanning, Waco police officers Manuel Chavez, Jeff Rogers and Patrick Swanton; former DA Reyna; and Department of Public Safety agents Steven Schwartz and Christopher Frost as defendants.
Previous pretrial rulings have dismissed all defendants except the city of Waco, the county, Chavez, Rogers and Reyna.
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