Nearly 90 bikers claim they were falsely arrested after deadly shootout
WACO, Texas (KWTX) – The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated the lawsuits – at least temporarily – of about 90 bikers arrested in the 2015 Twin Peaks shootout whose civil rights cases were thrown out last year by U.S. District Judge Alan Albright.
A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court reversed Albright’s previous ruling that a grand jury’s indictment of the 90 bikers “served to break the chain of causation” for their false arrest claims and sent the cases back to Albright for further consideration in light of the court’s ruling.
The panel’s complex, 17-page opinion puts the civil rights cases of about 90 bikers back in play and instructs Albright to determine if each defendant has alleged adequate claims that they were falsely arrested after the melee that left nine dead and 20 injured.
By dismissing the suits of the indicted bikers, Albright did so through “a legal erroneous application” of the independent intermediary doctrine, the panel ruled. The doctrine, as interpreted by the 5th Circuit, states that even if an officer makes a false arrest and violates the detainee’s Fourth Amendment rights, the officer will not be liable if the facts supporting the arrest are put before an impartial intermediary, such as a magistrate or a grand jury, and the intermediary finds probable cause.
“Because the district court concluded that the independent intermediary doctrine applied, it did not discuss the merits of the plaintiffs’ false arrest claims,” the opinion states. “But the nature of the plaintiffs’ false arrest claims is relevant to our inquiry here because they argue, in essence, that the independent intermediary doctrine should not apply to the grand jury’s indictment because the grand jury was misled in the very same way as the magistrate who issued the arrest warrants.”
Attorneys for the bikers challenged the validity of the arrest warrant affidavits, claiming the 192 bikers arrested were charged in identical, “cookie-cutter” documents with engaging in organized criminal activity that did not take each biker’s actions or individual culpabilities into account. The bikers all were jailed under $1 million bonds, including some bikers who were just getting off their bikes when the brawl started and some who hadn’t even pulled into the parking lot.
Of the 192 arrested, 155 were indicted. Those cases, which swamped the court dockets of the county’s two felony courts, resulted in only one trial, which ended in a hung jury and a mistrial. The remaining cases eventually were dismissed by former District Attorney Abel Reyna and current lame duck DA Barry Johnson.
The bikers’ lawsuits claim they were falsely arrested without probable cause and that the grand jury could not have reviewed a thorough presentation of the facts of the shootout because they allege it took an average of mere minutes to approve an indictment in each of the 155 cases. They also allege the grand jury was not shown video footage of the clash between the Bandidos and the Cossacks and their support groups that could have cleared many of wrongdoing.
Dallas attorney, Don Tittle, who represents the majority of bikers, said he and his clients are “certainly glad that the 5th Circuit has reinstated these cases.”
“We look forward to hopefully starting the discovery process and having some people testify under oath after all these years.”
Waco City Attorney Jennifer Richie said of the opinion that “the 5th Circuit is asking the district court to look again at the motion to dismiss” those plaintiffs who were indicted. Albright allowed the lawsuits of around 35 bikers who were arrested but not indicted to stand.
Previous pretrial rulings have dismissed all defendants except the city of Waco, Chavez, Rogers and Reyna. Richie said the city has a pending motion to dismiss the lawsuits.
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