Lawyers for three of the bikers at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, filed legal documents to have the district attorney recused from their criminal cases. On Monday, a hearing on their motions put the McClennan County District Attorney on the hotseat. D.A. Abel Reyna, the police chief, and other law enforcement officials, were all placed on the stand to testify during the hearing.
As reported by Breitbart Texas on July 21st, bikers who were caught-up in the Twin Peaks arrests in May 2015 filed motions to have the D.A. removed from their cases. They urge it is not possible for them to get a fair trial because there is a conflict of interest. They have asked for the appointment of an attorney pro tempore (“pro tem“).
Lawyers for the bikers assert that the Waco D.A. should be recused because he has a clear personal, financial incentive to continue the prosecutions against the two bikers. The motions argue that “It is well established law in Texas that, although it is normally up to a district attorney to initiate his own recusal, a trial court may disqualify a prosecutor when the disqualification is based on a conflict of interest that rises to the level of a due-process violation.”
The defendant bikers argue that D.A. Reyna took on the role of a police officer and lost his prosecutorial immunity, his protection from being sued in a civil action for damages.
Dallas lawyer Clint Broden told Breitbart Texas, “I can say that there was a very troublesome disconnect between the testimony of the various law enforcement officers and the elected district attorney, Abelino Reyna. Reyna’s testimony was at times completely opposite of what was testified to by law enforcement officials. Ultimately it will be up to the judge to make any necessary credibility findings.”
Broden added, “What is evident from the hearing, however, is that the Waco Police Department was very hesitant to engage in the wholesale arrest of the motorcyclists but Reyna consistently advocated for their arrest.”
According to the Waco Tribune Herald, Reyna testified that he was at the Twin Peaks restaurant for about five or six hours on the day of the shootings. He went to the convention center with several of his assistant district attorneys when he left the restaurant.
The local paper reported that “Reyna said he was told a busload of bikers had already been processed and released before he got there. Once Reyna got to the convention center, the release of bikers ended, Waco police officials testified.”
The Tribune Herald reported that D.A. Reyna testified that it was Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman who decided that there was probable cause to arrest more than 170 bikers en masse.
Stroman testified he was out of town on vacation but he kept in contact with officials by phone. He also testified that Assistant Chief Robert Lanning told him that Reyna wanted all of the bikers arrested. Reyna changed his mind and told officers to arrest bikers who were Bandidos and Cossacks or their support groups.
Stroman was also reported to testify that in his almost eight years as police chief, Reyna had never been to a crime scene.
A detective for the Waco Police Department, Officer Manuel Chavez, was reported to testify that attorneys with the District Attorney’s Office prepared the affidavits. Lawyer Abigal Anastasio asked, “If you can’t trust the D.A.’s office to give you the factual information for the warrant, then who can you trust?” The officer was reported to hesitate and then answer that he trusted his fellow officers to give him correct information. Chavez reportedly testified that he received advice and information from the D.A.’s Office and he did not verify if the Cossacks were on the Department of Public Safety database of criminal street gangs. Chavez swore to that fact as true in the affidavit that he signed.
Officer Lanning, who was acting chief on the day of the arrests testified that officers had intended to identify and interview bikers and then release them without charging them pending further investigation. The Tribune reported he testified that changed when Reyna told them that all bikers wearing “colors” should be arrested and jailed. Lanning testified that none of the supervisory officers wanted to arrest all of the bikers.
A reporter from the Waco Tribune Herald, Tommy Witherspoon, tweeted testimony as the hearing proceeded in the courtroom. His tweets can be found @TSpoonFeed.
Lawyers for Matthew Clendennen and Burton George Bergman allege that D.A. Reyna is pursuing the criminal cases against Clendennen and Bergman because they are suing him in federal court for civil rights violations. They are suing the D.A. in his individual capacity; thus, Reyna could be held personally liable if the civil lawsuits are successful. A motion to disqualify was also filed by biker Ray Nelson. Nelson has not filed a lawsuit against Reyna.
The bikers were arrested along with over 170 other bikers when they were caught up in the events on May 17, 2015 that led to arrests en masse. The shoot-out killed nine bikers and wounded 20 others. Law enforcement officials and judges have been soundly criticized for their handling of these cases.
Judge Matt Johnson did not rule on the matter after hearing a day of testimony. He told lawyers to file legal briefs on the disqualification issues, lawyer Clint Broden told Breitbart Texas.
As reported by the Tribune Herald, the federal judge hearing the biker’s civil rights lawsuits suggested that the cases could not proceed until Reyna was replaced because there is a conflict of interest. The publication also reported that fifteen bikers have lawsuits in Judge Sam Spark’s court. Eight of these were not indicted. Three allege that they had not even arrived in Waco as of the time of the shootout.
The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (TCDLA) has condemned the mass arrests of the bikers with “cookie cutter” indictments and arrest warrants, the setting of outrageous $1 million bonds, and making a Waco Police Department detective a grand jury foreman. All of the bikers involved were charged with Engaging in Organized Crime and when they were indicted, the grand jury took exactly 5.09 minutes to hear evidence and deliberate for each indictment (dividing 106 indictments by the nine hours it took on one day to indict those bikers).