This week, a Texas Assistant Attorney General named Lance Kutnick. ruled that McLennan County District Attorney Abelino “Abel” Reyna violated the Texas Public Information Act in one of the numerous sideshows that have plagued coverage of the Twin Peaks Massacre: The alleged bargaining of bond reductions for defendants in the case in return for the defendants’ acquiescence to hold harmless agreements.
Houston attorney Paul C. Looney started it.
On May 31, Looney issued a press release that made a disturbing claim that in hindsight seems more plausible now than it did then.
“Earlier today,” Looney wrote, “detainees in the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco were told that in exchange for bond reductions, they must sign a document stating the Waco police ‘had the right to arrest the inmate and that he/she will not file a lawsuit against McLennan County and/or the City of Waco.’
“On the two-week anniversary of the ‘shootout at high noon’ at the Twin Peaks restaurant between motorcyclists and law enforcement officers, at least 170 people remain detained on $1 million bonds.
“This latest information was reported to an attorney representing at least one of the detainees. ‘It appears the public defenders office in McLennan County is involved in this scurrilous activity,’ said Paul Looney, a Houston attorney with Looney & Conrad, P.C. ‘I’ve never seen anything like the lawlessness that the authorities have perpetrated on these people and now to add insult to injury they are trying to cover their own tracks in exchange for bond. I will be in the reception area of the McLennan County D.A.’s office tomorrow morning at 8:30 with the intention of not leaving until we have the issue of bond resolved.’
“‘They know these people aren’t dangerous or they wouldn’t be offering the bond reductions and they know the police and the D.A.’s office have violated the law and now they are trying to hold people hostage until they agree to waive their rights. It’s unconscionable,’ said Clay S. Conrad, Looney’s law partner.”
In an email to the Houston Press, Reyna wrote, “It is totally false, ridiculous, and sad that someone would make such baseless allegations.”
The next day Looney issued a second press release that stated: “It has been determined the District Attorney’s office was not involved in yesterday’s attempt to get defendants to waive their rights of litigation in exchange for bonds…That entire debacle was orchestrated by McLennan County private attorney Brittany Lannen…Her behavior in this matter is bizarre, unprofessional, unethical and unappreciated by all of the attorneys representing defendants, by the McLennan County District Attorneys office, and by the McLennan County court staff. Her behavior will be reported to the State Bar of Texas for investigation this week.”
Lannen publically called Looney’s accusation “reprehensible.” In private texts she described it as “stupid” and “horseshit.” And some short time later the entire brouhaha should have been over but it wasn’t.
A “public information activist” named R.S. Gates immediately requested screenshots of the text messages between Waco Assistant District Attorney Michael Jarret and Lannen. He still hasn’t gotten them. He received a transcription of a text message from Jarret to Lannen on September 12 and earlier this month he got a screenshot of two texts between Lannen and Jarret on May 31. In that screen shot, in apparent reference to Looney, Lannen wrote: “My thoughts exactly. There is now an intel bulletin going out to all LE about his involvement in the protests Sunday. I’ll explain when you are ready. No rush.”
In the same screenshot, Jarret replied: “The negotiation of bonds is based on the legal factors a court can consider. I would never ask someone to forfeit anything when agreeing to bonds, with the exception of bond conditions prescribed by the court.”
But after more than four months Gates still hasn’t gotten screenshots of the entire conversation between Lannen and Jarret. He is entitled to see them. Under Texas law the screenshots of both sides of the conversation are public documents. On October 9, Kutnick wrote Reyna, “The McLennan County District Attorney has four days after receipt of this notice to cure the alleged violation(s). The McLennan County District Attorney office should provide a screenshot of the entire text message to Mr. Gates.”
Reyna ignored the order. This week the Texas Attorney General ruled Reyna was in violation of the state’s Public Information Act. Technically, Reyna can be fined $1,000 and be sentenced to six months in jail. That doesn’t seem likely. But the whole sideshow, from May 31 until now, does illustrate the back room nature of justice in Waco.