More than 170 bikers charged over deadly Texas brawl
WASHINGTON – Agence France-Presse
AFP PhotoSome 170 rival motorcycle gang members have been charged with engaging in organized crime linked to capital murder after a mass brawl at a Texas restaurant left nine people dead, police said on May 18.
Officials in the central Texas city of Waco said they were still processing the unusually large number of suspects after May 17 melee, which started in the restroom of the Twin Peaks Sports Bar and Grill and eventually spilt into an outdoor patio area and the parking lot.
Officials said as many as five gangs fought each other with knives, chains and guns in front of terrified restaurant patrons.
“We had wounded inside. We had people stabbed. We had people shot and we had people beat,” said Sergeant Patrick Swanton, a Waco police spokesman, at a press conference.
Authorities revised downward a figure for the number of suspects taken into custody, which earlier on Monday was put at 192.
“We took over 170 individuals to our convention center where they were detained and the investigation continued there,” said Swanton.
The gang members could face a number of counts including possibly capital murder, which is reserved for particularly egregious killings that can carry the death penalty.
The detainees “have been charged with engaging in organized crime in reference to a capital murder case at Twin Peaks,” Swanton said. “That basically says that 170 people have been involved in capital murder.”
“It’s a capital murder because of the number of victims that were killed in one episode here.”
Police had been bracing for trouble after learning that the bikers planned to meet at the Twin Peaks.
Swanton said police had made their concerns known beforehand to Twin Peaks, but the bar - part of a so-called “breastaurant” chain known for its scantily clad waitresses - had not been cooperative.
Swanton said police had dispatched 18 officers and other law enforcers to the restaurant.
They were not far away when the violence erupted between the warring bikers, but were unable to intervene before a bathroom fist-fight spun out of control.
When officers tried to restore order, Swanton said they become targets of the violence.
“As we pulled up on scene, the shooting at individual bikers from bikers, turned towards us,” Swanton said.
“Our officers took fire and responded appropriately, returning fire. The number of shots, who shot who and all of that, will be part of our investigative process.”
Numerous law enforcement agencies in the region responded to urgent calls for back-up.
“That includes local, state, federal, and county officers,” Swanton said. “All of those agencies are still here today and are still providing manpower and support to us.”
Authorities said nine gang members were killed in the mayhem, and local news outlets reported that as many as 18 people were wounded -- most from gunshots and stabbings -- in the deadliest such standoff in recent memory in the region.
Police said they collected more than 100 weapons at the chaotic and bloody scene and were still booking the suspects on May 18.
The Twin Peaks is located in a popular Waco shopping and dining center known as the Central Texas Marketplace.
Among those arrested were bikers wearing the insignias of the Cossacks, the Scimitars and the Bandidos groups.
So-called biker clubs sprang out of an American counterculture movement in the second half of the 20th century, and some now have global affiliations.
Recognizable by their leather jackets bearing gang insignia, the groups are generally clubs for individuals who share a love of motorcycles and a disrespect for authority.
But many group chapters - which elect their own leaders and have their own byelaws, symbols and initiation rules - have become involved in organized crime.
In the United States they are particularly associated with gun-running and drug-trafficking, and some biker clubs or their chapters have been formally designated as organized crime groups by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Waco is in central Texas and has a population of about 129,000.
The city is known for a deadly confrontation in 1993 between the FBI and heavily armed members of the Branch Davidian religious sect.
More than 80 people, including children, died when a fire engulfed the Davidians’ besieged compound during a raid by federal agents.