WACO, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - All 24 remaining indictments from the Twin Peaks biker brawl in May 2015 will be dismissed by the McLennan County Criminal District Attorney.
District Attorney Barry Johnson released a statement announcing the dismissal Tuesday, April 2, saying that he felt that further prosecution in the case would be a waste of the court's time.
"I believe that any effort to charge and prosecute these individual charges at this time 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," Johnson said in the statement.
The May 17, 2015 incident at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco resulted in nine deaths and at least 20 serious injuries, said Johnson. A majority of the approximately 200 members of rival motorcycle gangs, support groups and independent bikers involved were members of the Banditos or Cossacks motorcycle gangs. Three of those arrested were from the Austin area, as previously reported by FOX 7.
"At the direction of the prior District Attorney, 177 bikers were arrested as members of criminal street gangs," Johnson said. "155 were later indicted for the offense of engaging in organized criminal activity."
Johnson said all but 24 of those indictments had been dismissed by previous District Attorney Abel Reyna before Johnson took office.
Johnson criticized Reyna's handling of the case, saying that while Johnson agreed there was "reasonable suspicion" and "sufficient evidence" to support the arrests and indictments for engaging in organized criminal activity, Reyna did not take action in a timely manner.
"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," Johnson 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."
Johnson said that most of the participants in the brawl "were beyond the reach of criminal prosecution" by his office by the time he was sworn in and that Reyna's office had advised the court that Johnson's office would not proceed with the remaining 24 charges of engaging in organized criminal activity, a decision Johnson said he will respect.
However, Reyna's office re-indicted those 24 individuals on a charge of riot, a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail, but provisions within the riot statute allow for the offense to be increased to the classification of any offense of a higher grade committed by anyone else in the riot under certain circumstances.
"Thus it would be possible for our offices to proceed to trial on these 24 individuals and seek to hold all 24 responsible for the conduct of one or more other persons in order to elevate a class B misdemeanor to felony offense which would carry much greater potential range of punishment," Johnson said.
Johnson expressed concerns in his statement that if his office proceeded to prosecute and obtained guilty verdicts, there were openings for appeal, such as the use of the misdemeanor riot statute to obtain felony convictions and whether or not the re-indictment itself was just an amendment of the prior indictment. "I do not have the degree of confidence that I believe necessary to justify the large expenditures of judicial and law enforcement time and resources, as well as taxpayer dollars, over a period of the next several years," Johnson said, "while running a significant risk of having the convictions set aside at a time far in the future by an appellate court,"
Johnson stated that the decision was a difficult one, but that he didn't believe it a "proper exercise of [his] judgment as District Attorney to proceed" with what he called an "ill-conceived path" set upon by his predecessor.
KTBC reported this story from Austin, Texas.