Bandidos, Cossacks, guns and dubious justice


Weeks have passed since the biker gang shootout in Waco, Texas, that left nine dead and 18 wounded. Yet surprisingly little information has emerged to justify the incarceration of about 120 people, many of whom appear guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Without question, egregious criminal activity occurred outside the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco. Some bikers, mainly from the rival Bandidos and Cossacks gangs, appear to have arrived at the restaurant armed and ready to do battle.

The continued jailing of scores of others seems based on little more than an assumption of guilt by association. To gain freedom pending trial, they must each either produce a $1 million bond (of which bail bondsmen require a 10 percent payment) or persuade a judge to reduce bail to an affordable amount. In about 70 cases, attorneys have negotiated lower bonds, but only about 53 have paid and gained release.

Guilty until proven innocent is not how the American justice system is supposed to work. It appears that many of the 177 originally arrested were taking cover when the shooting began and were only bystanders. Their profiles include war veterans, plumbers and business owners. Most have no criminal record. At least one has no biker club affiliation at all.

Law enforcers were at the scene and videotaping when the shooting started. No recordings have been released, and some publicly released police reports have been redacted. Authorities haven’t clarified whether police gunfire caused some of the deaths or injuries.

A prosecutor in McLennan County, home of Waco, told a judge Friday that recordings depict “Bandidos shooting Cossacks and Cossacks executing Bandidos,” according to the Waco Tribune-Herald. Video also shows members of the Cossacks taking up sentry positions along the patio and double-checking their holstered weapons, as if preparing for trouble. They instantly bounded over the patio railings when a line of Bandidos rode through the parking lot, the prosecutor said.

That describes the actions of only a fraction of those arrested. The mass-arrest decision and excessively high bail smacks of collective punishment, not a precautionary measure to minimize flight risk. Because McLennan County allows only video visitations, those jailed remain cut off from face-to-face meetings with loved ones.

This newspaper absolutely wants to see justice served for all who participated in the shootout. We fear, though, that McLennan County authorities are overwhelmed by the magnitude of this case and are assuming guilt based on superficialities such as physical presence at the scene or the display of logos on leather vests.

If they’re not able to come forth with facts, sift nonparticipants from shooters and administer swift justice, it might be time for McLennan County to ask Gov. Greg Abbott or federal authorities for help

The Dallas Morning News

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