FORT WORTH, Texas – A Texas prosecutor on Thursday dismissed 13 cases stemming from a 2015 shootout in Waco involving bikers and police and recused himself from two others, placing into doubt the criminal prosecution of the more than 130 bikers still awaiting trial.
The actions came hours before a scheduled hearing for Jorge Salinas, whose case was among those dismissed. Current and former staff had been due to speak at the hearing about corruption allegations against District Attorney Abel Reyna, who faces a Republican primary election in March. The hearing was canceled.
According to a motion filed Thursday, the prosecutor dismissed Salinas' case "in order to focus its efforts and resources on co-defendants with a higher level of culpability."
The May 2015 shootout involving members of the Bandidos and Cossacks motorcycle clubs outside a Twin Peaks restaurant left nine bikers dead and 20 injured. Local police arrested 177 bikers after the mayhem, and more than 150 people were eventually indicted on felony charges of engaging in organized criminal activity resulting in the deaths and injuries.
Ballistics evidence showed that police bullets struck four bikers, killing at least two of them. The three officers involved in the shooting were no-billed by a grand jury after being cleared by an internal investigation.
Nearly three years later, only one biker, Dallas locomotive driver and Bandido chapter president Christopher "Jake" Carrizal, has been tried. Carrizal's November trial resulted in a mistrial when jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. The second biker set for trial rejected a plea deal in December.
"The way people were arrested was fairly indiscriminate — it was predictable that some of these cases would be dropped," said Sandra Guerra Thompson, a University of Houston law professor, adding, "I wouldn't doubt if we see more."
In a statement Thursday, Reyna said that it is "entirely possible" that other cases will be dismissed after prosecutors are able to review evidence from an ongoing federal trial of the former Bandidos president and vice president in San Antonio.
While the Waco shootout isn't mentioned in the federal indictments against both men on racketeering charges, including ordering killings and assaults, government witnesses have discussed the Waco incident in pretrial hearings, court records show.
Reyna said prosecutors expect to receive evidence from the federal case "within 60 to 75 days. Once received, we will commit to making additional decisions in each of the Twin Peaks cases within 30 days from receipt of that evidence," he said.
More than 100 bikers, including 11 whose cases were dismissed Thursday, have civil suits pending against Reyna's office and the Waco police department claiming that they were wrongfully arrested.
A federal judge in Austin had stayed the cases pending the outcome of their criminal cases. Dallas attorney Don Tittle, whose firm is representing 122 bikers' civil cases, said he hopes the dismissals mean "that there's no longer any impediment" to proceeding in civil court.
Salinas, 27, a decorated Marine from Lometa, Texas, and his Fort Worth attorney, Brian Bouffard, both cried upon learning late Wednesday from the district attorney's office that the case against him would be dropped.
Bouffard called the dismissals a "smoke screen" to avoid having the allegations against Reyna voiced in public court, and said Salinas would continue to pursue his civil case.
Salinas "lived under this garbage for almost three years, and his civil rights were violated. The dismissal, while welcome, doesn't erase that," Bouffard said.
Reyna said in a statement that claims that the dismissals were motivated by a desire to avoid a hearing were "simply not the case."