Not a single person charged for their suspected roles in a fatal shootout at a Texas biker bar in 2015 has been convicted, a prosecutor says.
The newly elected district attorney in Waco said he is dropping all remaining charges against the bikers involved.
The brawl resulted in nine deaths, 20 serious injuries and 177 arrests.
McLennan District Attorney Barry Johnson blamed his predecessor for not properly prosecuting all those charged in the fracas.
Nearly every person at the Twin Peaks restaurant was arrested and initially accused of engaging in organised crime following the shoot-out between the Cossacks and Bandidos gangs on 17 May 2015.
Mr Johnson said in a statement on Tuesday that former District Attorney Abel Reyna should never have issued such a blanket arrest warrant, and should have issued more specific arrest warrants based on the evidence against each individual.
“In my opinion, had this action been taken in a timely manner, it would have, and should have, resulted in numerous convictions and prison sentences against many of those who participated in the Twin Peaks brawl,” he said.
“Over the next three years the prior District Attorney failed to take that action, for reasons that I do not know to this day.”
Mr Reyna – who lost a recent election to Mr Johnson – told the Waco Tribune-Herald: “I absolutely disagree” with the decision and the “accusations within Mr Johnson’s press release”.
Some of those at the restaurant – which became the site of the deadliest biker brawl in US history – accused police of firing indiscriminately into the crowd, but the three officers who participated where cleared by prosecutors in 2016.
Of the 177 charged with engaging in organised criminal activity resulting in murder and aggravated assault, prosecutors later dropped charges against all but 155.
All gang-related charges were then later dropped, but 24 people were re-indicted on charges of rioting.
In announcing his decision to drop charges against the remaining 24 people, Mr Johnson said further prosecutions could possibly be overturned on appeal, and “would only result in further waste of time, effort and resources of the McLennan County judicial system and place a further unfair burden on the taxpayers of McLennan County”.
According to the Austin-Statesman, several multi-million dollar lawsuits against the county are pending from men who say they were arrested and described as gang members solely due to their presence at the restaurant and the style of clothing they were wearing at the time.
Only one person ever went to trial – president of the Dallas Bandidos chapter Christopher “Jake” Carrizal – but the case ended in a mistrial after he tearfully argued from the witness stand that he had been ambushed by rivals.
Of the nine dead, six were Cossack members, one was a Bandido, one was from another motorcycle club and another was a man unaffiliated with any club, KVUE reported.
Surveillance footage shows tattooed men ducking for cover as shots are fired, and some are seen fist-fighting, swinging a chain or pointing guns.
Police car dashcam video shows officers collecting weapons from the restaurant and nearby car park, and indiscriminately tossing them into a large pile, according to the Associated Press.
The cause of the outbreak of violence has never been established, with some saying it began after one person ran over another’s foot, and others claiming it stemmed from a territorial dispute.
McLennan County executive assistant criminal district attorney Tom Needham told the Statesman newspaper that officials would have had a difficult time attributing any specific crimes to the individuals because the scene was “a battlefield situation”.
“There were dozens of guns and hundreds of weapons collected after a five-minute brawl… With the video evidence and the forensic evidence that’s available, it’s simply not possible to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt [of] who fired the shots that killed people,” he said.
Paul Looney, a criminal defence lawyer who has represented some of the bikers, told the Tribune-Herald that he is not surprised by the outcome.
“They destroyed this case a long time ago,” he said. “All the current prosecutor did today was announce the inevitable.”
Who are the gangs who lost members in the shoot-out?
- Formed in Texas in 1966 by former US Marine Don Chambers
- Now has between 2,000 and 2,500 members in 14 countries
- Classified as an outlaw motorcycle gang by the FBI
- Responsible for distributing cocaine and marijuana, according to the US Department of Justice
- Produce and distributes methamphetamine, according to the justice department
- Founded in 1969 in Texas
- Motto: “We take care of our own”
- Two members were stabbed in an attack, allegedly by Bandido members, in 2013
Sources: US Department of Justice, Bandidos MC, The One-Percenter Encyclopedia