Charges filed against 170 motorcycle gang members in Waco shooting

Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday, May 17, 2015, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)
Authorities investigate a shooting in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant Sunday, May 17, 2015, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)

WACO, Texas (KXAN) — About 170 motorcycle gang members were charged with engaging in organized crime in connection to the deadly shooting that broke out between five biker gangs at a Twin Peaks in Waco. Police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said this shooting is now considered a capital murder case “because of the number of people killed in one episode.”

“That’s a pretty severe charge — engaging in organized crime in reference to nine individuals killed. It doesn’t get much more significant than that,” said Swanton. “There may be warrants on individuals that may be attached to that as well, but that’s a pretty serious charge.”

Some 18 Waco police officers and four Texas Department of Public Safety officers were involved in the gunfight in a matter of seconds, according to Swanton. Off-duty officers even responded to the incident. He also added that they are in the process of going through “every blood spot” and “every body” involved in the shootout that spanned a large area.

The crowd of suspects was so large that authorities opened a convention center to hold them all before they were arrested, police said. McLennan County Justice of the Peace W.H. Peterson set bond at $1 million for each suspect.

Police sources told KXAS the shooting was tied to a pair of events last December, which included a beating at a Toys for Tots event in Wise County and a murder in Fort Worth.

Under a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission mandate, the restaurant shut down its alcohol sales for the next seven days as the investigation continues into the shooting that left nine people dead and at least 18 people injured — an investigation that has included biker gang death threats made against uniformed officers. The restaurant’s corporate officials later said they were immediately revoking its franchise agreement, and Waco police are urging the restaurant to remain closed entirely — at least for the next week — out of respect for the incident.

“They are threatening to kill uniformed officers, and we’re aware of that. We’re sharing the intelligence that we’re getting. We know that we had a heavy influx of biker members coming into our area yesterday. We believe that was in an attempt to come in,” said Swanton early Monday morning, who added that the people arrested could be looking at capital murder charges. “They saw the show of force that we had here; they saw the large number of officers that we had here — not only at this location but scattered throughout Waco. We were prepared for a worst-case scenario if they tried to bring a fight to us.”

Swanton said local, state and federal officers are prepared if the biker gangs decide to act on those threats. He also added that if you could name a local agency in the area, they were there helping them Sunday afternoon following the shootout.

“I can tell you that yesterday’s events started as bad guys on bad guys,” said Swanton. “When our officers got there and intervened in the active-shooter situation, those bad guys turned their hostility on our officers, which included Waco and DPS.”

Meanwhile, authorities continue to comb through evidence that spans a Central Texas shopping center, much of which is closed Monday morning due to the amount of evidence they have to go through. Some 50 weapons — including knives, brass knuckles, chains and clubs — have been recovered from the scene so far.

“These were bad-guy weapons. They ranged from brass knucks to knives to chains to clubs and to firearms,” said Swanton. “This was a true gang fight.”

It started with a fist fight in the bathroom of the restaurant near the intersection of Interstate 35 and State Highway 6 Sunday afternoon in Waco. It spilled into the bar, where it quickly escalated into knife fight — and then out into the parking lot where a gun battle raged between five different biker gangs and heavily armed police. Swanton says the shooting began inside the restaurant and spilled out into the parking lot and surrounding area.

Three bodies were found in the immediate Twin Peaks parking lot, and another four were found throughout the extended parking lot. Eight people died at the scene, and another person died at the hospital. Most of the injured either had stab wounds or gunshot wounds — or both. Two people had to be take out of the Waco area because of the severity of the injuries, and most of the others injured were taken to Scott & White Baylor Hillcrest.

“They had a little bit of an issue there as well, with individuals showing up, being threatening to staff, demanding answers and had some problems there,” said Swanton of the hospital situation.

Waco police are questioning hundreds of people.

“In 34 years of law enforcement, this is the most violent crime scene I have ever been involved in,” Swanton said. “There is blood everywhere.”

The altercation between biker gangs began just as churchgoers arrived at the Central Texas Marketplace for Sunday Lunch.

In anticipation of any problems, Waco police were already on scene when the violence broke out. Officers say bikers were attacking one another with chains, knives, bats, clubs and firearms.

“These are officers that ran into gunfire to protect our citizens, and they — without a doubt — did a hell of a job doing that yesterday, and we’re very proud of them. And again, we think that saved numerous lives,” said Swanton. “We were quickly able to gain control because of the number of officers we had here on scene. And we began calling for additional resources due to the large number of people that were there and the threat to not only our officers, but the citizens as well.”

It is still unclear if those killed and injured were hit by police gunfire or gunfire from the bikers involved.

“What I want you all to understand: This is not a bunch of doctors and dentists and lawyers riding Harleys,” said Swanton on Sunday afternoon. “These are criminals on Harley-Davidsons that are members of a criminal biker gang, and we know who they are. We know which clubs that they’re with.”

Meanwhile, the shopping center is shut down from Cabela’s to Best Buy. The shopping center is open for business starting from Kohl’s.

Full press conference early Monday morning

More from Sunday afternoon

Could it have been prevented?

“What happened here today could have been avoided,” Swanton told the media during a news conference. He went on to say that police alerted the restaurant to the threat of violence and that the manager was asked to discontinue ‘bike night.'”

Swanton says police presence has been at that Twin Peaks for about two months now, adding that this incident wasn’t the first Sunday that they’d been out there.

“They were aware that there were issues here. We have been working with management here — to no avail. And I have to say: That was local management here,” said Swanton. “We told them of the issues. We tried to get assistance from them in dealing with this crowd, but they would not cooperate … There was a statement that local management put out last night that was absolute fabrication. It was a lie.”

Jay Patel, operating partner of the Twin Peaks Waco franchise, offered up a statement on Facebook.

“We are horrified by the criminal, violent acts that occurred outside of our Waco restaurant today. We share in the community’s trauma. Our priority is to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for our customers and employees, and we consider the police our partners in doing so. Our management team has had ongoing and positive communications with the police, and we will continue to work with them as we all want to keep violent crime out of our businesses and community. We will continue to cooperate with the police as they investigate this terrible crime.”

Swanton doesn’t agree.

“We feel like they could’ve done more. We feel like that they did not take our advice and try to keep the bike groups from being here,” said Swanton on Sunday after the shooting. “They absolutely have a right to refuse service to people that may be a harm to their patrons and employees. They didn’t do that, and today is the ultimate aftermath of what their decision was.”

Swanton says that the police department has had officers in plain clothes — in large numbers — at the restaurant for the past two months. He also said there have been several arrests stemming from incidents at Twin Peaks, most of them minor skirmishes, warrant arrests and arrests of that nature.

“As of about a week ago, we were in contact with the national management of Twin Peaks because we were getting no cooperation locally, and we were going to them for assistance,” said Swanton. “People have civil rights. Until a law is broken, there’s nothing we can do if we don’t have management to support — to assist us — in keeping individuals out of a business. There’s nothing we can do until a law is broken.”

No bystanders were hurt, despite another packed restaurant just 25 feet from the gun battle.

As bikers from across the state began to pour into town Sunday afternoon, Waco police decided to close the mall where the restaurant is located.

While five different gangs are believed to be involved in the fight, officers on scene said it appeared some of the gangs appeared to be in alliance with one another.

Twin Peaks corporate statement

“We are in the people business, and the safety of the employees and guests in our restaurants is priority one. Unfortunately, the management team of the franchised restaurant in Waco chose to ignore the warnings and advice from both the police and our company, and did not uphold the high security standards we have in place to ensure everyone is safe at our restaurants. We will not tolerate the actions of this relatively new franchisee and are revoking their franchise agreement immediately. Our sympathies continue to be with the families of those who died and are very thankful on employees, guests, police officers of bystanders were hurt or injured.”

Statement from Twin Peaks Waco franchisee

We are working hard to learn the facts about the violence that occurred outside our Waco restaurant yesterday, and that process has just begun. We are horrified by this violence and express our deepest sympathy to all those impacted by it.

It is important to clarify that, to the best of our knowledge, law enforcement officials did not ask either the Waco restaurant operator (with whom they spoke several times) or the Twin Peaks franchisor to cancel the patio reservation that was made on Sunday. Based on the information to date, we also believe that the violence began outside in the area of the parking lot, and not inside our restaurant or on our patio, as has been widely reported.

We are disappointed that the franchisor, Twin Peaks, made a sudden decision to cancel our Waco franchise before all of the facts are learned. We will continue to assist the authorities in any way possible that will assist in their efforts to bring the wrongdoers to justice.

We are in the process of gathering additional facts, and urge that people avoid rushing to judgment before those facts are fully known.

Why Waco?

Waco’s proximity to Austin and Dallas, by way of Interstate 35 and less-traveled highways, has made it a popular destination for bikers since the 1970s. The city has several biker bars on the outskirts bearing signs barring gang members from wearing “colors” inside.

Investigators in Waco say the gangs involved in Sunday’s violence were apparently in town in effort to recruit new members.

Gov. Abbott Statement on Waco Shooting

“Texas will not stand for the type of lawlessness we witnessed in Waco yesterday. My office, along with law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels, is committed to providing any and all resources needed to support the Waco Police Department and the local community. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the first responders who put themselves in harm’s way to protect innocent lives.”

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo stance

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo is jumping into the conversation. He posted the following on Twitter Sunday night:

“Waco today was textbook example of societal problem & illustrates need to give law enforcement tools to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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