Earlier today, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals lifted the gag order that has suffocated public discussion of the arrests of 177 mostly innocent men and women who were arrested after a brutal brawl at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas on May 17, 2015.
The gag order, issued by 54th District Court Judge Matt Johnson, compelled defendant Matthew Clendennen and his attorney, Clint Broden, to remain silent about the case for almost a year. Johnson’s order also gave local officials including District Attorney Abelino Reyna an excuse not to answer reasonable questions or explain inflammatory official statements made in the immediate aftermath of the brawl.
In a statement released earlier today, Broden wrote:
“Following the arrest of 177 motorcyclists in Waco, Texas on May 17, 2015 arising out of the tragic incident at Twin Peaks, the Waco Police Department and the McClennan County District Attorney’s Office launched an unprecedented publicity offensive designed to scare the public with horror stories of roving ‘biker gangs.’
“Indeed, they held multiple press conferences before local, national and international media in an attempt to prejudice the motorcyclists in the eyes of potential jurors and to deny the motorcyclists a fair trials.
“When one motorcyclist, Matt Clendennen, bravely spoke out to defend himself, only then did the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office seek a ‘gag order’ in his case. The District Attorney’s Office disingenuously claimed to seek the gag order in order to preserve ‘the paramount importance (of) the trial rights of Mr. Clendennen’ despite the fact that its motives were very transparent. Moreover, the District Attorney’s Office sought the gag order in a perfectly orchestrated plan, ten minutes before a totally unrelated hearing with no notice to anybody so that the State’s statements to the same media groups it had no problem speaking to for several weeks about ‘biker gangs’ would forever go unchallenged.
“On August 7, 2015, the Tenth Court of Appeals entered its unanimous opinion essentially vacating the gag order. Nevertheless, the District Attorney’s office then even sought to challenge that opinion in the Court of Criminal Appeals resulting in a stay of Tenth Court of Appeals’ opinion.
“Today, almost a year after the gag order was entered, the Court of Criminal Appeals, in a unanimous opinion, lifted the stay and restored Mr. Clendennen’s First Amendment rights. While Mr. Clendennen certainly does not welcome the publicity that has surrounded this case, neither will he allow the police and the District Attorney’s office to manipulate the public unchecked.
“Mr. Clendennen thanks the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association for filing amicus briefs before the Tenth Court of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals in the case. Justice Brandeis once said that ‘sunlight is the best of disinfectants.’ The ruling today affirms that principle.”