In the buildup to the big showdown, a DPS agent assigned to Waco named Christopher Frost wrote: Lorena Police Chief (Tom) Dickson “received a phone call from Lorena Police Officer Shawn Board who stated Officer Board received information that the normal Coalition of Clubs (COC) meeting that usually is held in Austin was suddenly changed to the Waco Twin Peaks Restaurant, located at 4671 South Jack Kultgen Expressway in Waco for May 17, 2015. Officer Board explained that the COC is run by the Bandido OMG. Officer Board further explained that the COC is where other motorcycle clubs are required to join and pay dues to the Bandido OMG to be able to operate in Texas. Officer Board felt like the change of the meeting location was purposely done to show support for the Bandido OMG in the Waco area to the Cossacks MC.”
The information obviously came from one of the Cossacks who had not been arrested for the beating of “Campos, Rolando, a member of the Bandido Outlaw Motorcycle Gang.”
“During the following week, (DOS) Special Agent Johnathan Estes made contact with Detective Jeff Rogers with the Waco Police Department. Detective Rogers investigates gang intelligence within the city of Waco. Special Agent Estes shared the information Special Agents had received from the Lorena Police Department with Detective Rogers. This intelligence was similar to that of what Detective Rogers was receiving.”
At seven o’clock on the morning of May 17, Frost decided to install “the department’s drop camera.” Other departments call them “pole cams” and “covert cameras.” “to supplement Special Agents ability of physical surveillance.”
“A decision was made to have Special Agents working in undercover capacity to be inside the restaurant. These Special Agents would be inside the restaurant to conduct surveillance and gather intelligence from inside the restaurant.”
“The camera was placed in the public right-of-way and was positioned to capture the patio area of Twin Peaks.” A reasonable person might have wondered why. The idea was to record as much of the fight police knew the Cossacks intend to start with the Bandidos. The view was uploaded to a satellite and download to a federal office in San Antonio.
The Cossacks were not members of the Confederation. They had to reason to be there other than that they knew a small group of Bandidos would be there for them to attack on behalf of the state and local police and the United States Department of Justice. Owen Reeves, who was both the most senior Cossack in Waco and a director of the Aryan Circle of Texas, sent out an email telling club members that attendance at the Twin Peaks that morning was mandatory. The Cossacks assembled their 70 motorcycle pack in the parking lot of a big box hardware story called Atwood’s Ranch and Home eight miles north of the restaurant. Reeves told the pack that they were there to confront the Bandidos and how they would do it. He specified which Cossacks should carry firearms and told the rest to leave their weapons behind. Cossack Richard Vincent “Bear” Kirshner Jr. went into the store and bought a three-foot length of heavy chain to use as a weapon. The police, were aware of the pack and ignored it.
The Cossacks and members of two support clubs, the Bogatyrs and Scimitars, got to the Twin Peaks an hour before the meeting was scheduled to begin and took almost all the parking spaces and all the tables on the patio where the meeting was scheduled to be held. The spaces the Cossacks left vacant were right in front of the patio. Then multiple Cossacks sent out the same racist meme. It was an image of a bucket of fried chicken and a watermelon set as bait in a bear trap. The caption was “Now we wait.”
Other Cossacks sent out multiple copies of the same text message. “The trap is set.” Then they all waited. They occasionally insulted and harassed members of the small clubs who came too close to them.
There were 22 police in the general vicinity of the Twin Peaks. Twelve of them were Waco Swat Operators. Two of the DPS Agents on scene, Cory Ledbetter and Justin Overcast, were inside the bar dressed as Cossacks but confiding to the Cossacks that they were police. The cops told the Cossacks they were there to watch the Cossacks “stomp the Bandidos out.”
Everybody except the Bandidos expected a fight. The Bandidos did not know what was awaiting them. They thought they might be attacked for riding through Waco. That had happened before. They did not expect to be attacked at the meeting. That had never happened before. Most of the police on scene were far removed from the restaurant. They cordoned off the area in order to keep the general public safe. One police SUV with two Swat officer was hidden behind a nearby store. When they were notified that the Bandidos were riding into the shopping center, they emerged from hiding and parked across the parking lot from the Twin Peaks restaurant. They were alerted by police at the entrance to the parking lot who videotaped the Bandidos as they rode in for later identification. There were seven Bandidos. One of them, Christopher Jacob “Jake” Carrizal, a locomotive engineer from Dallas, was the only man ever tried for the Twin Peaks Brawl. He was charged with nine murders and 18 attempted murders.
Carrizal rode to Waco with six other members of the Dallas chapter including his uncle, David “3D” Martinez, who was the chapter president, and his father, Christopher “Shovel” Carrizal. They also rode with members of three Bandidos support clubs. Jake Carrizal, who had recently become chapter vice-president, rode at the front of the pack with his uncle.
Carrizal, like every Bandido knew about the beating of Rolando Campos. When he was arrested he had a photo of Campos in a text message on his phone. That morning he sent a message to the other Bandidos he would tide with that day “Bring tools guys.” By “tools,” he meant guns. Texas is awash in guns.
Carrizal would later say that if he had it to do over again he would have just said,” Bring guns.” Carrizal brought a two-shot, .38 caliber derringer. It is never used for by street gangs for shooting up ghettos. It is a common, self-defense weapon in the biker world. It is a, “Please Lord, get me out of this bar alive weapon.”
Carrizal later remembered a 90-minute ride on a pretty day. He wasn’t going to wear a helmet but his mother had sent his custom painted, full face helmet with his father so he put it on. As he pulled into the Twin Peaks parking lot he did not notice the restaurant was swarming with Cossacks until he was about to back his motorcycle into a parking space. It was a great and obvious parking space. He didn’t think about that either. He just thought he was lucky.
He was surrounded by a mob of Cossacks as he tried to back into the space. Cossacks pushed against the back of his bike and told him he couldn’t park there. “My feet were down and I was pushing back and there were Cossacks on every side of me,” he said.
When he got off his bike he was crowded by Cossacks. So were his father and his uncle. “We were surrounded by dozens of Cossacks.”
Cossacks separated him from the rest of his small pack. “I was completely surprised. I knew I had to get from the right side of my bike to where my uncle, my father and my brothers were. They were surrounded too.” He managed to fight his way through “a sea of Cossacks.” The Bandits were outnumbered ten to one,
“The main Cossack, who I now know was Big O, (Cossack Owen Reeves) was talking to my uncle. They were yelling that we were blocking them in and taking their parking.”
Simultaneously, Jake Carrizal found himself face to face with a Cossack from the Hill County chapter. “Be cool,” Carrizal said. “Be cool.”
His uncle told Reeves, “Get back on the porch. We’ll talk after our meeting.”
Reeves told David Martinez, “Get the fuck out of here, fat ass.”
The Dallas chapter sergeant at arms took exception to that. According to Jake Carrizal, “Wrecker said, ‘Hey! Don’t talk to my president like that.”
“A little Cossack started yelling at Wrecker. ‘Hey don’t talk to my Nomad like that.’ Then Big O hits wrecker. I knew there was no getting out of there. The guy in front of me hit me. I hit him back as hard as I could.”
A dozen Cossacks grabbed and punched at Jake Carrizal. They ripped the face shield from his helmet. “They had brass knuckles and they were trying to punch inside my helmet.” He tried to reach for a pocket knife but couldn’t get to it. While he was in the middle of a pile he heard shots go off. “I was waiting for a knife to go in me or a bullet to hit me.”
He was knocked down twice. While he was laying on the ground, a Cossack named Jacob Lee “Rattle Can” Rhyne tried to kill him. Jake Carrizal fired his derringer at Rhyne and missed. The two Waco police officers in the SUV across the lot killed Rhyne first and saved Jake Carrizal’s life.
Carrizal took cover behind a light pole and starting yelling for his father. When he yelled for “Dad,” nobody answered. So he yelled for “Shovel” and still nobody answered. He crawled under a truck and kept yelling for his father. At that point in his story Carrizal paused to wipe the tears from his face.
As soon as the shooting started, most of the witnesses turned and ran for their lives. Some of them jogged. Most of them seemed unable to process what was happening. Most of the dead were killed by police.
Daniel Raymond “Diesel” Boyett was shot in the head as he brandished an automatic pistol. The last time he was photographed alive, on one of the Twin Peaks security cameras, he was a bald, pudgy man dressed in his shiny, new Cossacks vest, with a stern and cynical look on his face and an unlit cigarette dangling from his lip. He was the most banal of men with a drama playing in his head,
When he was 43, he found the ambition to be a motorcycle outlaw. The week after he died his brother, William, told the New York Daily News, “A year and a half ago, the man didn’t even know how to ride a motorcycle.” Boyett invited his stepson, Cody Ledbetter, to join him in the Cossacks so, it seemed later, they could have this adventure together and grow closer.
Jesus Delgado “Jesse” “Mohawk” Rodriguez was a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran who, in many ways, epitomized the differences between the bikers of his generation – the young men who came home from Vietnam and missed combat and brotherhood – and the new bikers who learned to be outlaws from television. He was dressed in Bandidos colors because he was an ex-Marine, and the Bandidos were founded by ex-Marines. Bandidos colors were Marine Corps colors. Mohawk was five-feet four inches tall. He weighed 135 pounds.
When the shooting started, Rodriguez attacked the nearest man shooting into the crowd. The shooter was five-foot eleven, 200 pound, 29-year-old Jacob Cody “J” Reese. Reese had been a Cossack for just eight months – which is about two years less than it takes to become a Hells Angel. Rodriguez started to run away then wheeled toward Reese, throat punched him and took him to the ground. Reese shot the old man in the chest just as Rattle Can Rhyne, one of the Cossacks bout to die, shot Rodriguez. Both shots would have been fatal. Then as he strode back to finish off Jake Carrizal, police killed Rhyne. Reese ran away.
Cossack Bear Kirshner hurried about the front of the patio looking for people to beat with the chain he had just bought. One Bandido fought back and managed to hit him in the head with a wrench. At least two other people shot him and he eventually bled to death.
Cossack Matthew Mark Smith was the youngest man to die. He was a 27-year-old community college student who worked at Best Buy. He had been hiding in a dumpster when the Bandits rode it and emerged to block their escape, He was shot three times, probably shot by the two Bandidos he was trying to kill. Those men had arrived shortly before the Carrizals.
Cossacks Wayne Lee “Sidetrack” Campbell and Richard Matthew “Chain” Jordan, III were shot in the head by police. Charles Wayne “Dog” Ruddell was shot in the chest, probably by another, unidentified Cossack.
Bandido Manuel Isaac “Candy Man” Rodriguez died about six feet from where the fight started. After he died there was some speculation about the possible meaning of his nickname. He was reported to have been a drug dealer. “He had a sweet tooth,” Jake Carrizal said while trying not to cry. “He liked candy. We always had candy around for him. He always had candy in his pockets.”
When the shooting stopped, Jake Carrizal tried to move one of his club brothers to the Don Carlos Mexican restaurant on the other side of the parking lot. “Then I saw two cops with my Dad in the middle between them. His shirt had been ripped off. He put his head in my lap.” The elder Carrizal thought he was dying. “He told me to take care of my mother. He told me to take care of my sons. He told me to take care of my brothers. I told him to shut up. That was the first time I ever said that to my Dad.”
The week after the brawl, Waco gang detective Jeffrey Rogers wrote: “We thought there was potential for possibly fights, but nothing like what took place. In my mind I expected some tension, some arguing, pushing and shoving, fights, I didn’t expect that.”
And, in a comment captured by her open body camera microphone Nicki Stone, a probationary Waco Police Officer who had come along for the experience, said, “I really didn’t think it was going to end like this. I thought that we were supposed to stay back and let them fight this out.”
It could have been worse. Among the things discussed at the meeting in the hardware store parking lot was a plan to ride as a pack to a bar named Hanover’s Draught Haus in Pflugerville, Texas after they finished humiliating the Bandidos at the Twin Peaks. They intended to disrupt a family gathering for the wives and children of Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents members. Fortunately, that did not happen. Instead the war the Cossacks had declared on the Bandits quickly shifted to the information battlespace.
First thing, an army of police including Waco and Lorena police, local sheriffs, Texas Rangers and game wardens took everybody still there and alive into custody. They took people who arrived late into custody. They were all transported to the Waco Convention Center. The Cossacks were kept separate from everybody else. Everybody was questioned and their personal information was collected. For about the first eight hours, the brawl was considered a murder investigation with more than 250 witnesses.
Then, after a meeting that included McLennan County District Attorney Abelino Reyna and representatives of the Texas DPS and the United States Attorney, Reyna decided to change the murder investigation into an organized crime investigation. Everybody displaying indicia that could be connected to the Bandidos or Cossacks was arrested for “engaging in organized criminal activity.” Most of the criminal indicia was patches that read “We Support the Fat Mexican.” One guy was arrested because he had a “Support Your Local Bandidos” tee shirt on underneath his flannel shirt. Four of the criminal suspects were women. All 179 suspects were arrested using a photocopied charging document with a blank for each person’s name. All the arrest affidavits were signed by one Waco copy and the arrests were authorized by a local justice of the peace. Everybody’s car and motorcycle was seized and searched. Everybody’s cell phone was seized. Everybody was held on $1 million bonds which was an immediate boon to Waco’s bail bondsmen. If your bail is $1 million, you can’t get out unless you pay the bondsman a non-refundable $100,000 fee. The suffering was enormous. Adoptions were cancelled. Marriages broke apart. Everybody’s mugshot was published everywhere. Everybody was identified as a gang member. Almost everybody lost his job.
The great travelling press descended on Waco. That was a great blessing for the local restaurants and motels. The local police public information officer, a braying, hick stereotype named Patrick Swanton, warned the first reporters who arrived to stay out of the dark and dangerous forest. “The parking lot areas may not be safe,” Swanton warned the brave members of the press. “We would like media to pass that along as well. Because of…the reason being, we don’t know who’s coming and going beyond our perimeter. These are very dangerous, hostile biker gangs that we are dealing with involved in this today.”
The next day he warned newly arrived journalists that they had stumbled into Beirut in 1976. “These are very dangerous, hostile biker gangs that we are dealing with…. There earlier were officers up on top of Twin Peaks providing security. I had some individuals were asking me why is there officers up on the overpasses. They were providing security so we didn’t have people having high ground on us.” The reporters lapped it up like thirsty armadillos.
Swanton refused to say much and virtually none of the witnesses were available so most of the press coverage of the “Twin Peaks Biker Brawl” was based on police, particularly federal police, and Cossack sources and leaps of imagination and deduction. “A real life Sons of Anarchy” was a particularly popular explanation for what had happened.
CNN almost instantly reported that Bandidos “in the military” were “supplying the gang with grenades and C4 explosives” and plotting to run “over officers at traffic stops, the use of grenades or Molotov cocktails, and plots to car bomb high-ranking law enforcement officials and their families.” You can get drunk and say anything after a biker brawl. It is all good journalism
Some analysis was more imaginative than others.
“During the uprisings in Baltimore, I saw a flurry of tweets about black people disrespecting property and throwing rocks at police,” CNN talking head Sally Kohn reported. “Now that these biker gangs have issued actual death threats, why am I not now seeing tons of Twitter posts about white people disrespecting the lives of police?”
Julia Craven of the Huffington Post hung her words on a similar angle. “Following a spate of white-on-white violence over the weekend in Waco, Texas, that claimed nine lives and resulted in scores of casualties and over 190 arrests, there has been a marked lack of interest in talking about where the event fits into the epidemic of such white criminal behavior in the U.S. – despite the fact that every year, more white people are murdered by white people than by any other group…. Granted, there are 201 thugs off the streets for the time being, but what about the rest of them?”
Suddenly Cossacks were being quoted in the news. They certainly did not care, as Li’l Dave put it, it they looked like a “bunch of snitches.” They wanted their accounts published, just like the Iron Order did. The Monday after the mass murder, a Cossack named Scott “Scoot” Keon reassured the Palestine, Texas City Council. “On our side, we are not a gang…. We are an organization that is Texas-wide. None of us are one-percenters.” He somehow refrained from calling the Cossacks “law abiding bikers” or “the 99 percent.”
“There are things that they (the Bandidos) are involved in that we have no interest in. We are businessmen, family men, and veterans and are in no way affiliated with them. We won’t be pressured into paying them dues, and that’s where their anger is coming from. Just because other clubs have given in, doesn’t mean we are going to.”
Three days after the brawl, a manly reporter who knew about these sorts of things, call him M.L. Nestel, wrote an article for the Daily Beast called “Blood on the Tires: Inside the Texas Biker Gang Wars.” What made Nestel get hard was discovering that “the Waco shootout that killed nine men wasn’t the first time rival crews crossed – and corpses were the result.” Then he wrote a long, fatuous account of the Gator’s Jam Inn fight the previous year.
Lest one of America’s great newspapers lose face, six days after the brawl and three days after Nestel tried to make sense of what had happened, the Washington Post chimed in. A veteran cops beat reporter in Texas named Tim Madigan found a cop who referred him to a source, a Cossack, who was probably Paul Russell “Philco” Miller. Madigan withheld the name of his source because the Cossack was “in hiding and said he fears for his life.” Philco Miller has told me he was not Madigan’s source, I told him I didn’t just fall of the back of a bike yesterday and I did not know who else it could have been.
Madigan’s account, according to the Post, was “a rare eye-witness speaking publicly about the Waco massacre, one of the worst eruptions of biker-gang violence in U.S. History.” It never occurred to Madigan or his editors that his source was lying to him, let alone who put the source up to it and why. The Post is innocent of the information battlespace.
The Post headline was, “An eyewitness to the Waco biker brawl. The lead sentence was “Richie was the first to die, then Diesel, then Dog.”
The anonymous source declared, “I saw the first three of our guys fall and we started running.” According to the Post, the fight happened because the Cossacks stood up to the Bandits who had demanded they pay $100 per month per chapter for the right to wear the Texas bottom rocker – which by an astounding coincidence, happened to be the public relations name of the federal investigation coincidental to the brawl, “Operation Texas Bottom Rocker.” Isn’t that lucky turn of phrase?
The Post claimed that the Bandido peacemaker Marshall Mitchell had invited Owen Reeves to the Confederation meeting. Madigan seems not to know Mitchell’s last name. Mitchell has unequivocally denied calling Reeves to me. Marshall Mitchell told me the Washington Post is “full of shit.”
The Post reported that entirely fictitious “parley with the Bandidos had been set for 11 a.m., the Cossack said, but the Bandidos didn’t arrive until about 12:15, when about 100 of them pulled into Twin Peaks in a long, loud line of Harleys.”
“Trouble started almost immediately,” the Washington paper reported. “One of the Bandidos, wearing a patch that identified him as a chapter president, ran his bike into a Cossack standing in the parking lot. The Cossack who was hit was a ‘prospect,’ a man in his mid-20s who was “striving to become” a full member of the club.”
The prospective member’s name was Clifford Pearce. He was 52. And what he told the police when he was interviewed at the hospital was: “He was walking between the bikes outside the patio at Twin Peaks. He said the Bandidos’ upper people came in and a scuffle started going on. He said the Bandidos were trying to park their motorcycles.”
Pearce told police, “He was a prospect for the last six months and he was fixing to be patched in.” Pearce said Reeves was scuffling. “Big O. He said Big O is a Cossack. He did not know his name. And Big O was arguing with the Bandidos.”
Pearce told police that “during the scuffle he heard a gunshot and he hit the dirt. He said he then heard a bunch of gunshots. He told me he was shot in the shoulder” by what was probably a police rifle bullet that struck his Fourth Thoracic Vertebrae “which paralyzed him from the waist down. He said he did not fight or argue with any of the Bandidos.” The police asked him “if he had gotten his foot ran over. “He told me no he did not. He said the Bandidos had come in and he may not have gotten out of the way quick enough. He said he could not identify any of the Bandidos and said the scuffle was with the two Bandidos that were trying to back their bikes up and he did not see them get off of their bikes. Again, he said he did not get his foot run over, but may not have gotten out of the way fast enough and said he was in the way.” One of his interviewers, “asked him if it might have looked like his foot had gotten run over and he said may have.”
The Post reported that after Pearce was attacked by the Carrizals and the other Bandits “Cossacks came to the prospect’s defense. An unnamed Bandido and a Cossack named Richard Matthew Jordan II exchanged punches. The Bandido then shot Jordan ‘point blank.’”
When he died, Jordan was at least forty feet from where the fight began.
“Then,” according to the Post, “all the Bandidos standing in the parking lot started pulling guns and shooting” at the Cossacks. The Post reported that “the second man to die was Daniel Raymond Boyett, 44, known as Diesel, a ‘road captain’ in the Cossacks from Waco. Boyetts was shot in the head by police after he pointed his gun at one of them. The Post simply reports that “Boyett died from gunshot wounds to the head.”
The Post reported that the third man killed was Charles Wayne “Dog” Russell. Russell another regional sergeant at arms for the Cossacks and he was killed by police.
“It was a setup from start to finish,” the Post reported. The paper also told readers “more violence is brewing.” The big paper reported the Cossack source had “received a call late Thursday from a friend in Bandido leadership, who warned him to get out of his house and ‘spread the word’ that the Bandidos were ‘coming hard’ after Cossacks.
“They’re going to hit houses,” the Post reported. “They’re going to hit funerals. And if another Cossack or a cop gets in the way, so be it.”
“I’m sending my family away, but I’m making my stand. I will fight. I will kill any one of them that comes through my doors. I’m not looking over my shoulder anymore. I didn’t sign up for this. I signed up for a brotherhood that believes in family and taking care of their communities. I should have died with my brothers. They stood and took what they took because they believed that everyone has the right to ride where they want, when they want – without having to pay for it.”
The Post’s account defined the Twin Peaks incident in the public imagination. Bad Bandidos attacked good Cossacks who just wanted to get a burger and a beer because the Bandits wanted to collect tens of thousands of dollars in tribute. When a hundred of them stormed onto the scene they ran over a young prospect and started executing anybody who did not like it. The Washington Post said that.
A month after the brawl, “a senior reporter on the Houston Chronicle’s investigative, projects and enterprise team,” Dane Schiller wrote another eyewitness account. The eyewitness was Cody Ledbetter. He was Daniel Raymond “Diesel” Boyett’s stepson. Boyett was the newly minted outlaw who had invited his step son to join the club so they could spend more time together. The interview was arranged by Houston lawyer Paul Looney, a flamboyant man who likes to wear good boots and string ties and who had distrusted and disliked the Bandidos ever since he became obsessed with the notion that one of them had tried to murder him with a poisoned cigar.
In “Life and death in Waco: A biker’s story.” Schiller reported, as if it was a fact, “They had come for a special sit-down with the Bandidos to hash out an ongoing dispute. Before their meal arrived, Diesel was shot, execution-style, with two bullets to the back of his head.”
The Chronicle reported that one Bandido died, “a guy nicknamed ‘Candy Man,’ who was charging and firing at police, according to Ledbetter.”
“There had been simmering tension between the two groups, particularly about the use of a patch, known as a bottom rocker, which says ‘Texas’ and is worn on the back of cycling vests. The Bandidos have long considered the patch as marking their territory, and the only riders who can wear them must have Bandidos approval.” And, “One of those at the front of the arriving cyclists rolled toward a provisional member of the Cossacks, who was in the parking lot, and drove over his foot.”
“The Cossacks, including Diesel and Ledbetter, surged from the patio, jumping over a small fence, and scrambled to protect the prospect named Cliff. He was so new he didn’t have a nickname. A Cossack known as ‘Big O’ led the way and demanded an explanation. The biker said he rode over Cliff’s foot because he was in the way of reaching a parking area. After a few heated words, the biker vowed they would settle the matter after lunch. ‘You’re (expletive) right we will,’ responded Big O. But a biker from the Bandidos-affiliated group said his leader had been disrespected. He threw a punch at a Cossack who went by the nickname ‘Chain.’ Chain dodged it, threw a punch of his own. The biker then whipped out a handgun, pressed it to Chain’s chest and pulled the trigger. Chain fell to the pavement. He was the first to die.”
Schiller reported that Ledbetter. “watched his father dive to the pavement and seek cover between two bikes. Tucked in the back of Diesel’s waistband was a pistol, one he legally carried, but he never drew it. A man with a handgun came and stood over him. He wore a motorcycle vest with the name of some club that begins with the letters ‘VA,’ and Ledbetter said he also wore a baseball cap, turned backward, that read, ‘Support Your Local Bandidos.’ ‘Take this, (expletive),’ he screamed. He fired twice into Diesel’s head. Ledbetter could hardly process what he was seeing.”
Schiller found an independent source to partly verify his account, “A law enforcement officer familiar with the clash at Twin Peaks and well-versed in motorcycle gangs said Ledbetter seems to be telling the truth. ‘He could have left out some incriminating information,’ the officer said, ‘but it sounds like he is putting out the real deal.’”
And so the two-year-old but still nascent RICO case against the Bandidos in San Antonio was saved. despite the yahoos and psychos in Waco.
The case froze while the public digested the official version of the massacre: That the blood thirsty Bandidos had attacked the peace loving Cossacks because the Cossacks were proud of their state, because they simply wanted to wear Texas on their backs and because the Bandits were trying to extort these honest working men of $120,000 a year. And that is a lot of money. Oh, and also, the police had nothing to do with this. They protected us from them, those others, those wild things in the forest. We should give those cops a raise.
The spin in Waco reminded me of the Martinez case in Los Angeles where a blood thirsty Mongol was said to have murdered a righteous, heroic operator simply because the cop was trying to serve a search warrant. Over and over Los Angeles news radio opined, “He was only trying to serve a search warrant.” Why would anybody but a monster do this to a dedicated public servant who was selflessly doing his duty for us all?
The Twin Peaks case also reminded me of the Vagos-Angels brawl in Sparks when the Vagos set an ambush in a casino intended to kill a high ranking Angel, and only one brave and honorable Vago, the noble Jabbers Rudnick, had the courage to step up and tell the truth so that justice might be done. It reminded me of a t least a couple dozen incidents at toy runs, at mixed martial arts fights, on desert roads and urban freeways and in parking lots outside stripper bars late at night. Sometimes I would think, I had really stumbled into very strange journalistic niche. Usually, I would complain to Gidget, “I can’t believe this shit.”
And, she would complain back, “I can’t believe I am paying this check. When are you going to grow up and get a real job?”
I wasn’t a daring undercover investigator like Jay Dobyns, Billy “Slow Brain” Queen, or “Charles Falco” with their book and TV and movie deals. I wasn’t Kurt Sutter with his wildly successful Sons of Anarchy. I wasn’t getting published in the Washington Post. Very occasionally I might get a mention in, like, the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.
It was just about then that I had my first inkling that somewhere I had taken too many wrong turns and had become Don Fucking Quixote. At the time, I don’t think it ever rose to the level of an actual awareness. That wouldn’t happen for years, until just about the moment this book starts.
All I could see, ridiculous though it may seem in print was that somehow, somewhere there was something called truth and it called to me like Circe. Even if I had realized then that I had become a figment of a dead man’s imagination; someone ridiculous, ineffectual and idealistic as a child; someone powerful men might either ignore or mock; Don Fucking Quixote; even if someone had had the decency to some up to me and tell me the bad news about who I had become do you know what I would have said?
I would have said, “Well, at least I am not Vincent Fucking Van Gogh.”
All but four of the detainees arrested at the Twin Peaks managed to bail out within two months. The last of them was a Bandido named Marcus Pilkington. He had been shot in the leg.
The case was crawling with lawyers by then like worms on week-old meat. Pilkington’s lawyer, Adam Reposa, argued “It is terrible that this unprecedented expansion of the engaging statute which has caused the wholesale denial of constitutional protections against unlawful prosecutions and incarcerations and we are hoping that the 10th Court will have the courage to call a spade a spade since obviously no one else will, including Baylor law professors, the American Bar Association, the ACLU or any of the other so-called watchdog groups who we rely upon to expose wholly illegal and unconstitutional behavior by the government.”
Prior to his arrest, Pilkington worked as a mechanic for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. His annual salary was $12,566. In addition to criminal conspiracy, he was also charged with possession of marijuana. He had been seriously injured in a motorcycle wreck ten months before the Twin Peaks. He was not wearing a helmet. He was unconscious for days, broke his left leg, lost several teeth, underwent multiple surgeries, had his spleen removed and suffered brain damage. His step father died in 2014 and his wife left him and took their three children with her early in 2015.
There was a protest motorcycle ride, with 75 bikes and a hearse from Arlington to Waco in August. The idea was for the protestors to rally at the courthouse steps and give a few speeches about “the death of our freedoms.”. Democracy and all that. Power to the people. Right on, right on. The speeches were scheduled to start at 11 a.m.
Shortly before eleven, Waco police and County Sheriffs surveilling the protestors discovered a suspicious suitcase and a suspicious cooler near an old office building near the courthouse. Fearing that the suitcase and cooler might be improvised explosive devices, such as sometimes materialize on Hemet, California, McLennan County Sheriff’s Captain M.R. “Bubba” Colyer ordered the protesters to leave while a robot was deployed to remove and inspect the suspected IEDs. He explained that Bandidos were “supplying the gang with grenades and C-4 explosives.” Two hours later, after the protestors had gone back to where they came from, police bomb experts determined that the cooler and suitcase were not potentially explosive.
There was very little actual news about the case. In late September, The Associated Press synopsized and published about 8,800 pages of evidence that had, been discovered to at least some of the defense attorneys in the case. The AP ran its story without a byline in order to protect both its reporter and her sources. The reporter was Emily Schmall who is now the AP’s South Asia Correspondent in New Delhi, which may be far enough away to avoid the wrath of Waco. I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the discovery, too.
The AP story referenced a 724-page police incident report and a 430-page Texas Department of Public Safety report that describe at least some of what happened in Waco. It became verifiable for the first time to report that Waco police “struck multiple suspects with their patrol rifles,” and that “DA Abel Reyna and his staff told authorities at the convention center that if a person was wearing a patch, clothing or insignia that indicated support for the Bandidos or Cossacks, he or she should be charged with engaging in organized crime.” Officials had sat on that news nugget for four months, which was something more than three months after the public had ceased to care.
Reyna responded with a press release that read, “The fact that someone violated their ethical and legal obligations and the fact that the ultra-liberal AP is printing that material is evidence to me that my office is alone in trying to protect these individual’s constitutional right to a fair trial…. “Our focus in the Twin Peaks matter will remain on the facts and the law and not the ridiculousness occurring all around it.” This is the new reality in the land of the free and the homes of the brave. Some cornpone prosecutor way down yonder illegally locked up 200 people and threw away the key, then he kept why he did it a state secret, and his song and dance is that he did it to ensure their “constitutional right to a fair trial.”
CNN released a very edited video taken on the patio and other interior locations of the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco during the confrontation between the Bandidos and the Cossacks. It was a spectacular action movie of the violence that day. It showed men firing guns and offered a fleeting glimpse of Mohawk Rodriguez, the old Marine, taking Jacob Cody Reese to the ground as Reese fired into the crowd.
Some of the footage was marked with a caption that read “Waco Police Department” in the upper right corner. The narration that accompanies the edited video said: “After it was all over, crime scene photos capture the nightmarish scene: Bodies left in the parking lot by toppled motorcycles; hundreds of weapons all over the place; handguns even left hidden in the restaurant toilets. CNN has obtained more than 2,000 pages of documents, crime scene photos, many too graphic to show, and surveillance video giving us the most detailed accounts of what unfolded last May. Waco police and prosecutors have consistently defended the mass arrest of the 177 bikers that day, all charged with organized criminal activity.”
Too graphic to show. If it bleeds it leads. What do they teach these days in journalism school?
Somebody had sent CNN a CD with about half of what Emily Schmall and I had gotten. That meant there were at least two leakers and probably three. One of them was the Waco police. You can’t have a case with hundreds of defendants and not have leaks.
“These are just some of the videos investigators are using to piece together what happened that day five months ago. A shootout that one witness said looked like the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”
Isn’t that good? The gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
On November 10, a 12-person grand jury in Waco indicted 106 people for engaging in an organized criminal conspiracy. Some of them had not been arrested immediately after the brawl. The jury accomplished all those indictments in a little less than ten hours, which worked out to about five minutes and thirty seconds per defendant.
The legal theory for charging members of a black lady’s club called the Queens of Sheba, and an antique motorcycle club and a Christian men’s club was Texas’ “Law of Parties.” It was the same legal theory that made Bandidos and Cossacks co-defendants.
That law abolished “all traditional distinctions between accomplices and principals…and each party to an offense may be charged and convicted without alleging that he acted as a principal or accomplice.”
The law demands that, “if, in the attempt to carry out a conspiracy to commit one felony, another felony is committed by one of the conspirators, all conspirators are guilty of the felony actually committed, though having no intent to commit it, if the offense was committed in furtherance of the unlawful purpose and was one that should have been anticipated as a result of the carrying out of the conspiracy.”
The other shoe dropped at the beginning of January. Bandidos national president Jeffrey Pike, national vice president John Portillo and national sergeant-at-arms Justin Cole Forster were indicted on a nine-count racketeering indictment. Four of the counts were for distribution of methamphetamine and they were aimed at Forster who brought what may have been as much as five pounds of methamphetamine from Colorado to Texas in four separate incidents. Portillo and Pike were charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit assault in aid of racketeering, abetting violent crimes in aid of racketeering and extortion.
The three men were described as conspirators in the “Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Organization.” The Bandidos was described as “a closed society. Allegiance to this organization and their fellow brothers is valued above all else.” “Full patch members are required to own a Harley Davidson motorcycle or facsimile and wear clothing with patches that symbolize the club.” The first “overt act” in the indictment was “War With The Cossacks Motorcycle Club.”
It was a thin indictment. Portillo is often an excitable man who distrusts conventional authority. He was a convicted felon because he was once found to have a very small amount of marijuana, much less than a roach, literally a crumb, in his pants pockets, as if they had held the stub of a marijuana cigarette since the last time they were washed so he was forbidden to possess a firearm which he sometimes did. And he detested Cossacks. His phone was tapped. His phone was tapped at the time of the mass murder. One of the reasons police contrived the brawl was to see what John Portillo would say about it on the phone. After the Twin Peaks murders he was recorded declaring that the Bandidos were “at war” with the Cossacks and it was time to fight back.
“On September 17,2015, Jeffrey Pike placed a telephone call to Portillo and instructed Portillo to get a copy of the accident report related to when a Bandidos OMO member was assaulted by Cossacks OMO members on the side of the roadway in Lorena, Texas on March 22, 2015, so that Pike could attempt to identify the individuals involved in the assault.”
The press release which was about all most reporters read about the indictment read, “According to the indictment, beginning in 2013, the Bandidos OMO declared it was “at war” with the Cossacks OMO. The indictment specifically alleges a number of violent acts committed by Bandidos OMO members in furtherance of this “war.” The indictment also alleges that in 2014, Portillo received methamphetamine from Colorado-area Bandidos members and that Forster was selling ounce quantities of methamphetamine.”
Neither the release nor the indictment mentioned Waco, not even as a geographic location and especially not what had happened at the Waco Twin Peaks. The government left it to the journalists to make that logical assumption – that the war the feds were talking about was Waco.
Rissa Shaw, a reporter for Waco television station KWTX, explained “While they weren’t at May’s deadly biker shootout at Twin Peaks in Waco, federal and state authorities have arrested the top three members of the Bandidos motorcycle gang, and legal experts say it will absolutely bolster the state’s case in McLennan County.
“According to the indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Antonio, the highest ranking members of the Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Organization (OMO) were arrested Wednesday on federal racketeering and drug charges, and are accused of waging a deadly war against rival biker gang the Cossacks.”
The station quoted an expert. “Legal expert Liz Mitchell, a former prosecutor in Dallas County, says the federal arrests strengthen the state’s case against the more than 100 bikers indicted in Waco in November for the May shooting.”
“‘It just kind of takes away, chisels away at the defense that this was just happenstance, that these people just happened to be there, drinking cold beer, and things got out of hand,’ said Mitchell. ‘To see these federal charges come down, they really do show that there is evidence that there was a lot at work, and the wheels really were turning leading up to May 17th.’”
The headline in the Daily Mail, which was probably representative of what the world thought, was “Leaders of Bandidos biker gang – who were on one side of deadly Waco shootout – are arrested and face prison for racketeering after deadly turf ‘war’ with rival Cossacks.”
The Houston Chronicle reported, “An indictment unsealed this week paints a picture of a Mafia-like gang whose members roam the state on Harley-Davidsons and shed the blood of those who cross them.”
There were numerous references that defined motorcycle clubs a “A group of Harley owners who join together and agree to disobey society’s laws.”
After another long interlude of judicial stalling, another 48 people were indicted on March 23, 2016. This time the grand jury spent an average of almost ten minutes hearing each case. Seven of them had not been arrested after the Twin Peaks brawl but were arrested later. The two grand juries declined to “no bill,” any of the defendants. Everybody the prosecutors accused was indicted.
I worked the story and wrote about the mass murder. Apparently I wrote most of what I wrote in invisible ink on some scraps of firewood in Mongolia. But occasionally someone would stumble over my eccentric opinions on this matter.
A couple of them worked for CNN. One of them was a veteran journalist and researcher named Ann O’Neill who worked for the cable network’s enterprise team in Los Angeles. The other was a reporter named Ed Lavandera. Ed had narrated the edited action footage from the brawl that appeared on air. Ed called the mass murder “the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” Ed and Ann were doing a show on the first anniversary of the brawl. They called it “Biker Brawl” O’Neill bought me lunch at Hennessey’s Tavern in Hermosa Beach. I talked to Lavandera, on camera, for a couple hours at another bar, the Gasser Lounge in Redondo Beach.
I liked Lavandera. He had written to me about going on camera. I graciously wrote him back to tell him what a fucked up job I thought he and CNN were doing. Ed has a thick skin. He asked if I ever went on camera. I told him sometimes but I avoided it because “I am not very photogenic or slick.”
Ed said, “Neither am I, but that’s what I do for a living.” That made me smile so we met at a little bar that always has bikes parked outside. I told him my crazy ideas about the case. When we were almost done sitting on a couple of Gasser’s barstools, Ed said, “You don’t strike me as a guy who is very impressed with anybody.” I didn’t answer because regrettably, what he said is true. I am arrogant. I don’t know my place and I sing out of tune. Nobody has to tell me. I knew it long ago although the full implications of that took a long time to figure out. Then Ed said something like, “You know I just can’t say some of the things you can.”
I said, “Sure. I get it. I just hope I gave you something you can use.” It turned out I didn’t.
I watched the show the next week with Gidget hoping that I wouldn’t be on television but that some of my ideas would be. While we were watching Ed, I said, “You know what I want to know? What I want to know is, if the ATF didn’t have anything to do with the Twin Peaks then what is this ATF son of a bitch doing in this television show.” There were numerous sound bites from some black ATF agent, I didn’t catch his name, that seemed to form the skeleton of the “CNN special report.”
“They have a story line,” Gidget said as if talking to a small, stupid child. “They run what fits the story line. They leave what doesn’t fit out. They run the news that fits.”
I often have breakfast in a small, old house, on a big lot, in a beach town in El Lay, in a neighborhood that used to be called felony flats but is now crowded with million dollar homes. Hunter Thompson would be bored there.
Gidget wanted to know, “Are you going to take mosquito repellant?”
“No, I’m not going to take mosquito repellant. I might take a flask.”
“Don’t screw around. If you’re going to take liquor, just take a bottle.”
A Border Collie-Aussie mix bowled a very large bone over a hardwood floor – over and over and over and over and over. “Emma! Knock it off.” A herd of cats meandered out the kitchen door to a side yard littered with surfboards, kayaks, fruit trees, plastic chairs and towels that were dry four days ago. “I feel like they’re screwing with me.”
“They aren’t screwing with you. They’re screwing with Jake Carrizal.”
“Why are they in such a hurry to get this guy? It’s been, like, 29 months. For the convenience of the prosecution? They are intentionally trying to discourage press coverage of the case. Nobody is going to be there. You know who is going to be there? Me. This guy Tommy Witherspoon.” Once again I proved I can count to four on my fingers. “That lunatic and maybe, maybe this chick from the AP.”
“Bullshit. Reporters are a dime a dozen. All these kids coming out of jay school. All the papers are closing. They’re all going to jump on this trial. It will be a good case to cover.”
“And they’re all going to get it wrong. They’re all going to write about the real life Sons of Anarchy. They’re not going to write about how about 200 people were framed. Trust me, CNN isn’t going to be there. Houston Chronicle, Dallas News. No Times. No Post. Know why?”
“How much is this going to cost.”
Like five, six hundred airfare. About a buck-twenty a night for the Mariott. Except on the weekends. Two hundred a night on the weekends. People love Baylor football. Meals, Soft drinks. Salty snacks. I dunno.”
“How much are the lawyers in Philly paying you?”
“About enough to cover a trial in Waco.”
“You gonna get a book out of it.”
“Yep. That’s the plan.”
“You gonna make some money?”
“Glory to God.”
“Where’s my diamond?”
“Dunno. In the jewelry store I suppose.”
“You know I’m very concerned about money?”
“How could I not?”
“How many eggs?”
“Couple.” We are the most boring and banal people in California.
“Money and security is very important to me.” Then a long silence. Then, “I don’t like Casie Gotro.”
“You think she’s cute.”
“Sure. Sorta. Sure.”
“Do you lurk her on face book?”
“A couple times. I have to. It’s my job. What I hate is that I still don’t know if there is going to be a trial. It’s been 29 months.”
“There will be a trial. It will start Tuesday.
“Casie Gotro will move for a continuance.”
Gidget smiled. “Denied.”
“Change of venue.”
“Denied. There is going to be a trial. Look. So you go down there and they continue the trial. So it costs you an extra plane ticket and a couple of nights in a hotel. You can do that. You’ll be sorry if you don’t go.”
“You going to take mosquito repellant?”
“You gonna take a gun, Donnie?”
I wound up making five trips to Texas. Even Waco has Uber. It just takes about an hour for your ride to arrive. The driver who brought me into town from the Airport in a pickup truck wore a baseball cap, a big buckle and a pair of cowboy boots. He told me he could never move back to Long Island. He said he could hardly even talk to his relatives back east anymore because they were so rude. Almost everyone I met in Waco was painfully polite.
One day I took a picture of a gang of convicts doing yard work outside the courthouse and a McLennan County Sheriff dressed in a polo shirt and a pair of slacks was polite but firm when he reprimanded me. As I walked past he said, “Hey! Do you know it’s against the law to take a picture of these prisoners?” In Los Angeles when they reprimand you they are just as likely to point a gun at you.
And it is much easier to get away with being a wise guy in Waco. “No, I didn’t know that. I’m not from around here. I’m from America and it’s not illegal there. I promise I won’t do it again.” I never stopped walking.
Make, sure you do,” is all he wanted to hear.
“Thank you,” he called politely.
The 20-year-old waiter at a restaurant named Ninfa’s was patient and polite when he told me to go fuck myself. Ninfa’s started as a popular, Tex-Mex hole in the wall in Houston before it became a soulless corporate chain. It didn’t come to Waco until 1996, just about the same time it opened a restaurant in Germany and shortly before the chain declared bankruptcy. People in Waco view the place as a local treasure.
It is three big rooms and I felt conspicuous in my isolation. I ordered a chimichanga and a Margarita. A chimichanga is a kind of deep-fried burrito. I enjoyed the drink. I don’t know how you screw up a Margarita even if you want to. Then a busboy brought me an empanada which is a kind of Spanish meat pie that looks like half the moon. The busboy didn’t speak English. All my Spanish is either about anger or sex or food – like, you know, chinga tu madre, puto! I was slightly impatient about having to wait two thirds of an hour to get something I hadn’t ordered.
Eventually I got the attention of a waiter who spoke English. He struck me as a Baylor student and he was kind enough to find my waiter. Minutes passed before I could tell him, “You know, my chimichanga looks like an empanada.”
“Yeah that’s what our chimichangas look like here.”
“Well, you know where I live, our chimichangas don’t look like this. We call these things empanadas.”
“Where are you from?”
“Oh yeah. Out there chimichangas look like deep fried burritos.”
He pointed at my plate. “That’s what our chimichangas look like in Waco. Would you like another margarita?”
Sure. Why the hell not.”
When I went to court on Monday morning for a pre-trial hearing, all the deputies in the courthouse security detail said “thank you,” and “please.” They called me “Sir.” One deputy complemented me on my shirt. I have stiff, motorcycle accident shoulders and one of the deputies helped me pull on my sport coat after they searched me.
I slipped into a courtroom for a preliminary hearing. During a break the prosecutor, a chunky, happy and self-amused man walked up to me smiled broadly and politely said, “Hi Rebel. I’m Michael Jarrett. No hard feelings.” I had never met the man before. I don’t watch as much television as I should but I am still pretty sure I am not a celebrity. So I didn’t know how he knew me. Back then I didn’t know about my dossier.
The courtroom belonged to a local judge named Ralph Strother. The hearing was about whether he was qualified to try the case or if he should be recused. Numerous rulings over the last two years indicated that Strother clearly had his mind made about the guilt of the defendants. They were guilty. After one of the detectives who had investigated the Twin Peaks was appointed foreman of the grand jury that might indict the defendants Strother said, “That’s the way it turned out. There was nothing to prevent the detective from being a qualified member of the grand jury, just like there is nothing to prevent him from being a qualified juror. If there is nothing that challenges his impartiality, he is qualified. We have lawmen who get on jury panels all the time. Who is better qualified in criminal law than somebody who practices it all the time?”
A defense attorney named Clint Broden included a passage in a motion that remarked, “There is a noxious odor surrounding the investigation by the Waco Police and the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office with regard to the ‘Twin Peaks Shooting’ and the wholesale arrest of 177 motorcyclists. This odor continues to waft and intensify with Detective Head serving as the grand jury foreperson over the investigation.” Broden couldn’t say those words out loud because both he and his client, a Scimitar named Matt Clendennen, were both under a gag order that prevented them from saying anything except by way of written motion.
As the months and years passed by, as the account of the Bandidos attacking the Cossacks at the Alamo began to appear in Texas high school history books, multiple defendants practically begged Strother for trial dates. And all their motions were carefully considered and denied. There was some logic to the years of delay. Apple, apparently provides users with a very effective way to encrypt the personal information on their iPhones and this causes no end of frustration for police. The police have to use an Israeli company called Cellebrite to get at all that good intelligence and potential evidence. Motorcycle outlaws like to store trophy photos of their muggings and drug deals on their phones you know. Ask any certified motorcycle gang expert.
Cellebrite does not seek publicity. It briefly entered the public consciousness after a couple of Islamic terrorists shot up a Christmas party in San Bernardino, California in December 2015. It was worse than the Twin Peaks. Fourteen people died and 22 others were seriously injured. It is an ever more banal event as America wanes. It is a small enough world that I slightly knew one of them. If it bleeds it leads. It was her turn to bleed. She was a beach girl – a friend of Gidget’s kids. She had a degree in environmental science. She was shot in the shoulder and abdomen. It was her first job after college.
The terrorists had encrypted their phones. The FBI could not unlock them and the following February the FBI tried to compel Apple to do it for them. But Cellebrite beat them to the punch in March 2016. It takes a long time to crack an iPhone. Cellebrite found a way to unlock the terrorists; iPhone 5.
But it took longer for the company to unlock the iPhone 6 which is what many of the Twin Peaks defendants used. In all, police in Texas hade confiscated “206 cell phones and five other electronic devices,” and had sent all the encrypted ones to Israel. While in custody, the phones’ software could not be updated so eventually the iPhone 6s were unlocked and the prosecutors in Waco were able to search them.
There is a process in American law called the “discovery of evidence” that varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some federal jurisdictions, West Virginia for example, have “open case files.” When the prosecutors know something they have to tell the defense attorneys about it right away. Other federal districts don’t require prosecutors to reveal or “discover” evidence to defenders until right before trial. In general, most people, including defendants, don’t know that most evidence in criminal trials is gathered post-arrest, usually by coercing or bribing co-defendants to snitch. It is easier for prosecutors that way. First you pick a potential culprit. Then you calculate a way to prove it.
Prosecutors always try to conceal their evidence and one way to do that is with so-called “evidence dumps.” Evidence dumps are the release of huge amounts of evidence all at once so that defense attorneys, particularly public defenders with small staffs and without the money to hire more assistants, can’t look at it all. The best place to hide needles is in haystacks. Typically, most of the dumped evidence is junk – phone bills, cable bills, statements, reports and old Christmas cards. That is why the lists of the “items to be searched for” in warrants are always so long. Evidence dumps are particularly effective in a case where your client may have hundreds of co-defendants so you have to wade through all the evidence about them to get to the evidence about your client.
In Waco, prosecutors both withheld evidence and hid evidence in document dumps.
In an email sent to several media outlets, Waco prosecutors announced they had recalled document dump six, in January 2017, while they did “a full review and investigation” of what, according to Jim Hice of local television station KCEN, amounted to “thousands of images of child pornography found on the cell phones of bikers involved in the Twin Peaks shootings.” It turned out to have been a video on one cellphone made by one of the defendants and his wife.
These delays multiplied along the way and most defense attorneys thought Strother was prejudiced in favor of the prosecutors. He managed to annoy most of the defenders when he ordered defendants into his courtroom simply so prosecutors could collect their DNA – not for any actual court business.
Jake Carrizal, was the defendant in the pending trial. His Houston lawyer was Casie Gotro. She wanted Strother off the case and she showed up with two other defense attorneys who also wanted the judge off their cases. One of them was a former judge from Galveston named Susan Criss and the other was a civil rights lawyer from San Antoniou named Millie L. Thompson. Gotro was by far the most flamboyant of the three. Her nickname in Texas law circles was “the bad bitch.”
For his first two years under a legal cloud, Carrizal had been represented by Landon Northcutt, a Stephenville, Texas attorney who did mostly personal injury law. The evidence dumps were distributed on six, one-terabyte, portable hard drives and at a hearing March he complained to Strother that he couldn’t get two of the drives to work. Northcutt asked for a continuance. At the same time, he asked to be discharged from the case in favor of Gotro.
Strother grumbled that Northcutt had “never been ready for a trial in his life” and refused the attorney’s motion. Eventually, he conceded that his ruling violated the Sixth Amendment and if he did not relent, a pack of pointy headed liberals from up north might make trouble for him. He allowed Gotro to take over and granted her a continuance so she could prepare. Not that she really bothered to do that.
The Bandidos national chapter had hired her. She had a good reputation but she was not in demand. She agreed to take the case for a minimal salary and an expense account provided she was allowed to tell McLennan County that she was working the case pro bono. That allowed her to also bill the County a low fee. The county also paid Gotro’s investigator, a decent and upright local named Kevin Fisk, a little more than $20,000 for his work on the case. Gotro eventually billed the Bandidos more than $50,000 for her expenses. They hired her, a Bandido told me, because “she was a little cheaper than the other attorney’s we talked to.”
Gotro grew a little famous among Texas lawyers after she worked on the appeal of a convicted murderer named David Temple. Temple was a former high school football coach who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife. He was having an affair with a teacher at his school. He told police he had come home one night to find his wife dead as a result of an apparent burglary. After his wife’s murder, he married his girlfriend. Eventually he was tried for killing his wife.
The prosecutor was named Kelly Siegler. She was adept at prosecutorial games like withholding evidence. She eventually admitted to withholding more than 1,400 pages of evidence. Gotro handled Temple’s appeal after he had already done nine years in prison. She hit it out of the ball park.
“I do not believe David Temple got a fair trial,” Gotro told the CBS news magazine 48 Hours. “No person with eyes and ears and half a brain can say David Temple got a fair trial,” Temple’s conviction was overturned and he was released on the basis of the withheld evidence and the general principle that you should give everyone a fair trial before you hang them. Briefly, for a year or so, Gotro was famous as the fiery and unconventional lawyer who had freed an innocent man and exposed a prosecutor’s misdeeds. It was a great story, much better than that a lucky lawyer had just gotten David Temple pout of prison after he had actually murdered his wife and unborn child. A jury would not decide that until August 2019 when he was convicted of murder a second time. The Bandidos thought Casie Gotro was the right David to fight Goliath in Waco,
The first time I saw her, in the recusal hearing for Judge Strother, I thought she was probably crazy. Her body jangled like a drug addict’s and, by turns, she was obviously furious with her hair, her purse, her cellphone, her glasses, and her shirt. She was most furious with the assistant prosecutor, Jarrett. At the time the prosecution had a witness list with 400 names on it and was blatantly, obviously withholding evidence. Some of the phones were missing. There was no way to tell who had possessed which gun. Everything that did not advance the prosecution had disappeared. “I have no intention of revealing my prosecutorial strategy to the defense,” Jarrett said.
Gotro took the witness stand to argue for her own motion. Strother, raising a subject no one else had dared to raise told Tommy Witherspoon, a reporter for the Waco Tribune-Herald that he didn’t think any of the Waco defendants could be tried before the pending RICO case against Jeff Pike and John Portillo was tried in San Antonio. Gotro’s hands shook and she seemed to have a brief seizure as she argued how wrong that idea was. Jarrett wanted to know who she had talked to. “The top leadership of the Bandidos?” He wanted to know if she had talked to me. She said she might have talked to me but it wouldn’t have mattered because she didn’t really consider me to be “the press.”
She hadn’t. I was just seeing her for the first time. What I kept noticing was that the two of them seemed to be playing out the Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis parts in the 1980s television series Moonlighting – which I have been told is based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It was a strange display of angry sexual tension.
The news at the end of the day was that Strother was removed from the case and replaced by a judge just down the hall. His name was Matt Johnson. He was the district attorney’s old law partner.
The Bandits’ club counsel, an East Texas cowboy and Clark Gable look-alike named Bill Morian, had arranged a mock trial two months before the actual trial began. Morian had been very thorough with the details. The Bandidos had not one but three juries and they polled them multiple times during the mock trial. Morian wanted to see what worked and what might hurt Carrizal’s case. Gotro attended the trial but she ignored most of it and she was completely disinterested in any of the statistics that resulted from it. She sat in the mock trial and doodled. None of the other three lawyers who attended the mock could tell her anything. Morian put an extraordinary effort into creating a jury questionnaire. Gotro was contemptuous of all the effort on her behalf. She was, after all, The Bad Bitch.
After the trial she said: “I came into the case late. March 23rd was my first appearance on the case. I did my due diligence. I spoke to all the lawyers that had other clients in the case and I was consistently told you’ve got to change venues. We’re not gonna get a fair jury. It is something you just have to do. You have to change. So they brought in three hundred viniremen.” She referred to Morian’s questionnaire as “this ridiculous eight-page questionnaire that it…frankly, it gets so long at some point it is useless. You know you have to make this rapid decision about who gets on and who doesn’t. Like it just stopped being effective at some point. And we didn’t make it past,” she turned to here co-counsel of record, a lawyer from San Antonio named Thomas Lane who did a most excellent job of carrying her document case,” what…we only ever got through…the first quarter?”
Lane explained, “We had this ridiculous chart of checks and minuses and all these different symbols. You know, we were sitting there trying to make intelligent strikes. It was impossible to read.”
Gotro was a Cajun from Hattiesburg, Mississippi who had run off to Houston to seek her fame and fortune. During her voir dire of prospective jurors, she confided that she understood that some of them might have old grudges and hurts that might influence their judgment; as she was still haunted by the terrible sounds of the dogs her father used to fight. I never found Gotro to be an interesting person except as a car wreck is interesting. One story I heard, from three different lawyers, was that while she defending Carrizal at trial, she had stolen pain killers from a cancer patient. I have no way to know if that was true or not. I thought it would be rude and beside the point to ask the cancer patient. What I realized later was that when I heard that slander the first time I was not surprised.
Before her father moved to Mississippi her family had lived in Ville Platte in Evangeline Parish, in Louisiana for a couple of centuries. When I found that out I made a reference to Longfellow’s poem Evangeline, which he had intended to be the great, tragic epic of her ancestors. She had never heard of it.
Her case history before David Temple, the guy eventually convicted of murdering his pregnant wife careened toward the grotesque. She had represented a charmer named Gregory Longoria Jr. He was accused of beating, choking and burning the breasts and genitals of his girlfriend using a lighter and hair spray. On behalf of her client, Gotro reenacted the alleged abuse by salaciously adjusting her skirt and jacket as she bent over an evidence table in front of the jury and described a night of sex. “Yes, I like to be spanked,” Gotro promised as she personified her client’s victim. She coaxed a flame from a disposable lighter and told the jury, “”I also like to play with fire.”
There are, as the post-modern novelist John Barth once remarked, “things worth doing and things worth remarking.” She undoubtedly got the Longoria jury’s attention. But, no matter how convincing Gotro’s show for the jury must have seemed in her head, it didn’t help the guy on trial.
Her Facebook page featured a song titled “Fear is a Liar.” It is a sad song about feeling not good enough, strong enough, worthy enough, beautiful enough or loved. I wouldn’t dismiss the value of insecurity to anyone’s success. “Don’t look back,” Satchel Paige advised. “Something might be gaining on you.” But personally, when they finally come for me and put me on trial for murder, I would prefer to be defended by someone arrogant and self-assured, like Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinnie.
Gotro had a wide-eyed sense of genuine curiosity about what she might coax out of any witness’s mouth at any moment. Her examination style is, or I should say was, extemporaneous and distracted, punctuated by moments of incredulity and outrage,
“Well wouldn’t you think,” Gotro asked over and over.
And each time, she tried this with a prosecution witness, and in this trial there seemed to be only prosecution witnesses, the witness would answer “No.” Or, “I don’t understand your question.”
She cross examined Kozlowski, who is such an accomplished liar that he once passed a polygraph examination with a Mongol standing behind him with a shotgun pointed at his head.
“Ooh! Ooh!” Excited as a child I tried to tell Gotro that Koz had just lied on the stand and how to prove it. She ignored me, although I am not sure how much damage Kozlowski did. The problem with motorcycle gang experts in general is that the field is very inbred and never subject to anything approaching skepticism or peer review. The opinions of biker gang experts are never questioned or disputed by criminologists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists or historians. A bunch of bikers took over Hollister in 1947, as Darrin Kozlowski was able to assert at the trial, and that’s that. The field is “FCBC,” which of course, as real experts know, signifies “For Cops By Cops.” What they say is simply the lurid plot of a lurid, low budget, 1960s movie.
Gotro continued to invite the next motorcycle club expert, an Aurora, Colorado cop named Doug Pearson to say anything he wanted to say to the jury.
There is a lawyerly cliché, which I never thought to question until I met Gotro, that a lawyer should never ask a witness a question unless the lawyer already knows what the witness will say. Gotro doesn’t believe in that.
“She doesn’t believe that,” Clint Broden, the Ivy educated lawyer who was representing Matt Clendennen didn’t actually do anything himself except sit on the Twin Peaks patio and drink a beer. “She doesn’t,” Broden said. “She gave a lecture on the subject over the weekend in Houston. I was there. I heard her.”
Then Broden laughed.
Gotro seemed genuinely curious to hear what fantastic thing Pearson might say next. She seemed to have the delusion that she might catch him in a lie. It shouldn’t have been hard because almost everything he said was bullshit but Gotro knew even less about motorcycle clubs than he did so she couldn’t catch him at anything. Meanwhile, as she tried, she kept extending the cop’s time in front of the jury instead of minimizing it. It was like watching blind people argue over Picasso. I wanted to grab her and shake her out of her dream. He was a prosecution witness. He was offering his opinions. Gotro wasn’t going to change his mind. How could the Bad Bitch lawyer of Texas not get that?
She managed to get him to say over and over to the jury that “wearing that patch” means you are “regularly engaging in criminal acts.” In case the jury wasn’t yet convinced, she got him to reiterate several times that the Confederation of Clubs was a way for the Bandidos and other brand name motorcycle clubs to control what happens in their territories. She invited him to tell the jurors that “the Bandidos are the same as the Bloods, the Crips and the Mafia.”
When Pearson volunteered that his job was to “proactively” “deter” crime she never asked him about the part of policing that involves keeping the peace, at places like the Twin Peaks. When he testified that he has been part of the “investigative team” that has been reviewing evidence in the Twin Peaks case, including evidence gathered from cell phones, for two years – or at least since Cellebrite had unlocked them – you could see an artery in Gotro’s neck throb. The prosecution had just been stonewalling her requests for discovery for as long as she had been on the case. She was particularly furious about not having access to the cellphones. Literally, the first words she had said to me were. “Owen Reeves cellphone is missing.”
Gotro was infuriated that Pearson had seen evidence she hadn’t seen.
Stunningly, next thing, Jarrett actually tried to stop Gotro from punching herself in the face. So then, as they did ten times a day every day of the trial, all the lawyers marched into Judge Johnson’s chambers for five minutes. When they came out, the judge told her she could continue.
She asked him what he had seen. She invited Pearson to present the prosecution’s case to the jury. So he did. And the jury, which until then had seemed bored stiff, suddenly sat up like dogs who smell bacon.
“Is it true,” Gotro demanded to know, that “the Cossacks had put a $500 bounty on Bandidos patches.”
Pearson ignored her. Instead he testified that the Bandidos had “planned” the fight. What he was talking about was Jake Carrizal’s message to the other members of the pack to “leave the old ladies at home and bring tools.” By that had meant that the Bandidos should prepare for danger. Pearson wanted the jury to think the brawl was a mutually agreed upon “affray,” a gun fight on main street – or in this case high noon in a shopping mall called the Central Texas Marketplace.”
“It was a planned encounter” Pearson smirked. “The Bandidos planned it.”
Another lawyer, Perry Mason or say Landon Northcutt, say, might have noticed that he was suddenly up to his knees in quicksand. Not Gotro. She was fierce. She was not afraid. She was outraged. She invited Pearson to tell the jury about that evidence. “Evidence that the Bandidos planned this violent encounter!?!” Immediately, every lawyer in the court reflexively sighed.
“I have seen communication among the Bandidos…based on evidence from phones seized at the crime scene,” Pearson testified.
Everybody knew about the “bring tools” text and that it was going to be central to the prosecution. I knew about it because Bill Morian had told me about it. I suspect all the competent lawyers knew about it too. It was the one truly incriminating piece of evidence in the case. It proved that Carrizal and the Bandidos knew the meeting in Waco might break bad. A shrewd lawyer might give some thought as to how and when it might be presented to the jury.
“You honor I must object,” Gotro squawked. Jarret told Johnson that Gotro had already been given the same evidence Pearson had seen. That’s when Gotro actually said, “I haven’t had time to go through…” before she stopped herself. Shook her head and grimaced with frustration.
Johnson let Pearson tell his tale and the entire case against Jake Carrizal spilled out like pig guts.
The Twin Peaks brawl occurred, Pearson said, because a highly respected and influential Bandido named Marshall Mitchell “gave the Cossacks permission to wear a Texas bottom rocker and then he revoked that permission.”
“Where did you get that evidence?”
“From the state.”
“Your honor, I need to know what this man reviewed…. I want to know when this evidence was turned over to him.”
“No problem, we’ll get that to her right away,” the prosecutors promised.
Pearson, at Gotro’s invitation, also told the fascinated jury that there were “many” text messages in which COC&I members were instructed to “bring tools.” There were not. There was only the one but it had been re-texted several times.
The jurors loved it. It was very cinematic. It suggested men preparing for battle. The government’s expert had told them a great story. Casie had helped him. It was a Tuesday, the second day of the trial. After Gotro and Carrizal walked out of the courtroom Broden stood up and yelled, “The line was this trial would be over by Friday! Who had the under!?”
Pearson crawled back to his hole. His name doesn’t come up often so I don’t give him much thought. But about a year and a half later he testified as a motorcycle club expert at the murder trial of a man named Michael Isaac Russ in North Carolina, Russ was a Hells Angel who killed a biker wannabe named Larry Wayne Campbell. Pearson gave his canned speech on the intrinsically criminal nature of the Angels and helped the prosecution win a conviction. Afterward, a friend of mine, an out-good Outlaw, struck up a conversation with him in a restaurant named The Varsity in Atlanta. My name came up. “Davis will take a bounce on 230 CDA,” Pearson promised him.
The above is excerpted from the book Expect No Mercy, puclished last year.