Joseph Heller coined the term “Catch-22” in a novel about bomber crews in World War II. It described a set of Army Air Force regulations that exempted crazy people from flying combat missions. The catch was you had to apply for the exemption. And trying to get out of combat proved you weren’t crazy.
In the last 55 years the term has become a catchy way to describe any double bind – which is a logical dilemma that requires someone to correctly answer two questions. And, a correct answer to either one automatically means a wrong answer to the other.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a federal judge in Austin named Sam Sparks (photo above) issued a couple of motion rulings in the 15 false arrest civil suits that resulted from the mass arrests that followed the bloody brawl and gunfight at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco on May 17, 2015, 468 days ago. One hundred seventy-seven mostly innocent witnesses were arrested after the violence on the orders of a local district attorney named Abelino Reyna.
No Acquittals So Far
Their presences at the site of the crime were construed by a bumpkin justice of the peace to mean they had all conspired to create a confrontation that led to nine deaths and something like 20 additional casualties. They were all held on $1 million bond and they all suffered as a result of a blatantly capricious display of official power. They were all slandered by a press that went out of its way to portray the tragedy as a “real life” episode of Sons of Anarchy, or The Devils Ride, Warlocks Rising, Outlaw Country, Gangland, Inside Outlaw Bikers or Gangland Undercover. Many lost cars and motorcycles. Many lost jobs. Some lost children.
Not one of them has yet been cleared because Reyna has blatantly gamed the system so that none of them can prove their innocence. A Houston lawyer named Paul Looney has all but begged the courts to try his client so he can be acquitted. A couple of lawyers representing different clients have asked that Reyna be recused from the case but that is unlikely to happen. One of the arguments for recusing Reyna is that he is a defendant in the civil false arrest lawsuits so he has a financial interest in finding his accusers guilty.
The “case,” which is now actually more than 200 prosecutions, ongoing investigations and state and federal lawsuits, is effectively frozen because of Reyna’s strategy of denying, delaying and counterattacking. His motives for behaving as he has are a matter of speculation but he is clearly stalling. And the action in Judge Sparks court italicizes that.
Last Spring, Reyna and his co-defendants – former Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman, Waco detective Manuel Chavez and John Doe – asked Sparks to move the lawsuits from Austin to Waco because moving the case there would be more convenient and fair to them. But the general rule is that a federal case is heard where it is filed and Tuesday afternoon Sparks ruled that the case should stay in Austin.
Reyna and his co-defendants filed a Catch-22 motion at the same time they asked that the case be moved. Reyna, Stroman, Chavez and Doe argued that if the complainants were allowed to prove that they had been falsely and unconstitutionally arrested in Waco on May 17, 2015 it would ruin Reyna’s chances to prove that they were guilty in an as yet hypothetical trial in Waco in – oh say, based on the way things are going – December 2036. Sparks thought that argument held water.
Quoting both the United States Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Sparks found, “it is within the power of the district court, and in accord with common practice, to stay the civil action until the criminal case or the likelihood of a criminal case is ended.” So Sparks granted the defendants’ motion to stay the case.
What Is Important
Sparks seems to think that what is really important is preserving the eventual possibility of a conviction, not holding public officials responsible for urinating on the Constitution. Over and over in his ruling, citing a case titled Heck v. Humphrey, he argues that finding that the complainants had been falsely arrested would prevent them from being convicted of the crimes for which they were falsely arrested.
“The Court finds Plaintiff’s alleged…claims and criminal charge are so closely interrelated that resolving the civil claims may impugn any conviction,” the wacky federal judge wrote. “The claims arise from the same facts as Plaintiff’s criminal charge: The violent incident at Twin Peaks and the arrests (“Plaintiff acknowledges that the criminal case arises from the incident that forms the basis of this suit.”) The claims are not temporally distinct as they arise out of events which occurred within a narrow time frame. (Defendants used allegedly insufficient affidavit to obtain general arrest warrant one day after the shooting took place.) Most importantly, Plaintiff’s civil claims challenge the legality of his arrest, which may directly implicate or invalidate any conviction in his criminal case.”
“Plaintiff argues that because his criminal case has not been set for trial, the civil case may be stayed for years. This delay, according to Plaintiff, creates three main problems: (1) Expiration of the statute of limitations with regard to the ‘John Doe’ Defendant; (2) loss of and inaccessibility to evidence over time; and (3) inability to conduct discovery on Plaintiff’s potential Monell claim.” (A so-called Monell claim would allow the defendants to sue the city of Waco and McLennan County.)
Judge Sparks is oblivious to the possibility that “John Doe” may be a federal agent or a federal agency. He displays both his ignorance and his contempt for the complainants when he snidely writes, “Plaintiff’s counsel, at this point, should have had sufficient
knowledge to determine who to sue.”
As a matter of fact, that’s what the case delays are all about. The great mystery of this case has always been who the federal agents were who contrived this intelligence gathering Mongolian Charlie Fox. Someone other than the witnesses who were arrested conspired to manufacture the confrontation at the Twin Peaks. Somebody thought quarantining the area with militarized police and surrounding the restaurant with video cameras might help ongoing federal investigations into both the Bandidos and Cossacks Motorcycle Clubs.
The most important thing about Sparks’ ruling Tuesday may be that now no one will ever know who that was.