Civic leader Bill Mahon served in the Army from November 1968 through January 1989, including service in the Vietnam War in armored cavalry units. A former deputy sheriff, he served as McLennan County veterans service officer. He also rode with the Patriot Guard Riders.
With all due respect to my longtime friends at the Waco Tribune-Herald and their award-winning coverage of the Twin Peaks saga, whoever came up with the front-page headline “Bikers ride free” is out of touch with the grim reality of the situation. The fact that criminal cases against the remaining two dozen motorcyclists indicted were dismissed after nearly four years does not mean they got off free without blemish, ramification or consequence.
Enough grief from this dreadful episode exists not only for those directly involved in the deadly May 17, 2015, melee involving rival motorcycle groups and Waco police but also for many individuals who had nothing to do with it. The citizens of our community faced yet another ridiculously preventable tragedy garnering worldwide attention and condemnation plus plenty of stereotyping. That meant more “Waco Wacko” comments from outsiders who don’t know what a truly great community this is, “Fixer Upper” or not.
Feeling the fallout: City and county employees, including county commissioners stuck trying to fund this entire mess, including the cost of jailing 177 bikers (155 were indicted), the cost of ensuring security for the one and only Twin Peaks trial and the cost of the trial itself, one resulting in a bunch of unconvinced jurors and a mistrial. Don’t get me wrong: I do not beg pity for them all, but they are not guilty of creating this fiasco. This saga proved an extraordinarily complex problem rendered even more complicated by the whims of one man, former District Attorney Abel Reyna.
And not one biker arrested on May 17, 2015, rode away “free” from this abuse of authority, misjudgment and incompetence.
Personal motorcycles and vehicles were towed off and at great expense to everyone arrested. An outrageous bond was put in place — a million dollars for everyone jailed — and some people lost jobs and homes and property while in custody, waiting to make bond. I believe this bond was set by Justice of the Peace Pete Peterson with toxic input from then-DA Reyna. Just my belief. If wrong, I hereby apologize. However, Reyna didn’t exactly step forward to explain himself to our baffled community during all this confusion. He let matters fester. He let matters get even further out of hand.
Some of those arrested will now have arrest records for the rest of their lives, based on one man’s decision, even though many in law enforcement reportedly disagreed with this tactic at the very outset. This was not the call to make, no matter who was in charge.
I would be wrong not to mention I am an ex-motorcycle rider. My situation of late prevents such pursuits, but if I could still ride, I would be in the saddle — and likely would have been arrested that very day.
Does this mean I favor the bikers over our police or community? Hardly. As a past peace officer in this county, I understand both sides of that day enough to know it could have been prevented by either — the bikers gathering at Twin Peaks restaurant for an innocuous Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents meeting that Sunday and law enforcement leadership calling the shots involving well-armed officers stationed nearby.
So, for each biker, after bonding out, facing storage fees and possibly civil forfeiture complications involving his or her vehicle, and being controlled by a bondsman and the courts till individual cases were finally dismissed here and there, including the final two dozen scrapped this month by newly elected District Attorney Barry Johnson, this was no free ride.
How many individuals’ bikes were repossessed for not making payments while the owner was in custody? How many riders saw jobs and homes lost and family relationships tested over this spectacular example of governmental overreach? I don’t know, but “Bikers ride free” does not reflect the story.
Yes, there were likely cases worthy of aggressive prosecution, but my experience tells me that when the evidence gets cold, memories fade and facts become blurred, the possibility of conviction drops significantly. In this situation, with this many cases, with a DA seemingly immobilized by his own ambitious strategy, the outcome was predetermined. You could not find a person there that day who could recall the story as sharply and as vigorously a year or two later. And there was slim chance of an unbiased jury locally due to different opinions stated almost daily in the news media by anyone with an opinion — and, yes, that includes me if we’re handing out blame.
I truly hate that a handful of individuals in the ranks of the Cossacks and the Bandidos now walk free without punishment. I hate, too, there has been no public review of law enforcement procedures that day beyond that offered during the trial of Dallas Bandidos chieftain Jake Carrizal. But I said it once and say so again: The leadership of both motorcycle clubs (not gangs) were jackasses to let this happen on anything but their own property. The risk to innocent bystanders on a Sunday morning in a shopping center in Waco was inexcusable.
This was reportedly part of a turf war of some sort, so let me tell both clubs from one who rode the roads: Then and now and hereafter, neither one of you clubs own Central Texas. It’s not your turf. This is a free country and the people who live here have a stake in it and claim it. Period. We, the citizens, are in charge. Any biker can ride here and is welcome if he or she keeps his behavior in line with community standards. That biker must abide by the same restrictions as any other citizen, whether riding into our town on two wheels or four.
I applaud DA Johnson for gauging elusive facts, facing the complexities of cold cases and making a tough decision that will hurt the families of the dead. I applaud him for explaining his decision to the public in such great detail. This was the right thing to do. It was time to end the nightmare being suffered by the innocent. It was time to make a decision that cleared allegations of corruption and incompetence involving the DA’S office.
This is America. Disagree with me if you will. That is your privilege. But if you are mad, be mad at the man who managed this tragedy into a full-scale travesty of justice.
Source: Waco Tribune