Texas Bikers Arrested After Waco Shootout Say They Are Innocent

Texas Bikers Arrested After Waco Shootout Say They Are Innocent

10:30pm Jul 07, 2015
Walt and Ester Weaver (shown here outside their attorney's office in Waco) were released on bond after their arrest but are still on curfew, can't associate with other members of motorcycle clubs, and could still be indicted.
Walt and Ester Weaver (shown here outside their attorney's office in Waco) were released on bond after their arrest but are still on curfew, can't associate with other members of motorcycle clubs, and could still be indicted.
Tom Dreisbach / NPR
  • Walt and Ester Weaver (shown here outside their attorney's office in Waco) were released on bond after their arrest but are still on curfew, can't associate with other members of motorcycle clubs, and could still be indicted.

    Walt and Ester Weaver (shown here outside their attorney's office in Waco) were released on bond after their arrest but are still on curfew, can't associate with other members of motorcycle clubs, and could still be indicted.

    Tom Dreisbach / NPR

  • Waco police on the scene of the deadly shootout at the Twin Peaks Restaurant in Waco, Texas. The investigation into the May 17 incident continues, with assistance from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

    Waco police on the scene of the deadly shootout at the Twin Peaks Restaurant in Waco, Texas. The investigation into the May 17 incident continues, with assistance from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

    Waco Police Department / Reuters/Landov

In May, a fight between two rival motorcycle clubs turned into a bloodbath in Waco, Texas. Nine people were shot dead, and at least 20 were injured.

In the end, 177 people were arrested and jailed on charges of engaging in organized crime.

But many of them say they had nothing to do with these "outlaw" motorcycle clubs — and nothing to do with the violence.

Among them are Walt and Ester Weaver. Walt says he's stunned by the way authorities handled the situation.

"Two months ago if you'd told me this could happen to this many people in the manner in which it was done, I would've looked you in the eye and called you a liar," he says.

Walt is a veteran who still works for the Army. The 54-year-old rides a Harley and says he used to be in motorcycle clubs but isn't in one now.

Ester, 46, is a housewife. She rides a big Honda and wears a black leather vest with patches for the Queens of Sheba Motorcycle Club — a club that rides on weekends and raises money for charities.

She says ever since she was arrested, people point at her and whisper.

"I can tell by how people stare — because I guess, well, we've been in the newspaper and the Internet," Ester says. "You know it's put a bad cloud over us."

'This Is Not Downtown Baghdad'

It all started on a Sunday afternoon. Walt and Ester planned to go to a regular meeting of the Texas Confederation of Clubs & Independents — a group that lobbies for bikers' rights.

The meeting was set for 1 p.m. at a chain restaurant called Twin Peaks, which Walt and Ester say is famous for hangover burgers and underdressed waitresses.

Walt drove a few friends over in his truck. Ester rode over later on her motorcycle.

Walt says motorcycle clubs of all sorts were there that day — outlaw clubs the police say are involved in drug trafficking and prostitution, but also Christian clubs and gear heads who restore old bikes.

As people were milling about and greeting each other, Ester parked her bike, started to light a cigarette and walked toward her husband.

That's when Walt heard the first shots.

"I did not see where they came from. I stood there for a second," he recalls. "I'm like, just that whole second in your brain where you go, 'Are you kidding me? It's a Sunday afternoon in the middle of Waco in Texas. This is not downtown Baghdad.' "

Police say two motorcycle clubs that had been at war for months — the Cossacks and the Bandidos — had planned to negotiate some kind of truce that day, though lawyers for the Bandidos say that's not true.

Either way, police and witnesses say one Cossack was knocked down by a Bandido or a Bandido supporter in the parking lot. Guys from both sides rushed in and threw punches and then somebody started shooting. Police eventually fired shots, too.

According to the Waco Police Department, 44 shell casings have been collected from the crime scene; 12 of those casings came from Waco officers' weapons.

'They Don't Violate People's Rights Here'

When the shooting began, Walt says, he bolted toward a little grassy hill at the edge of the parking lot. Ester did the same.

"I looked to the right and I saw Walt on the ground as well," she says. "And I was like, 'OK, we're safe. He doesn't look like he's hurt or anything.' And that was that."

Police told everybody to stay on the ground.

"If I remember right, there was one policeman, he was pointing his weapon at your back," Walt says. "The other one would come to you and ask you if you had any weapons on you. You would say either 'yes' or 'no.' "

For Walt and Ester, the answer was "yes." They both had new Smith & Wesson five-shot revolvers. They say they didn't draw their guns that day. Both have concealed-handgun licenses and carry their guns most of the time.

Eventually the two were rounded up, handcuffed with zip ties and bused with hundreds of other people to a nearby convention center.

"The assumption was that they were gonna keep us. We were gonna make witness statements. 'What did you see? What didn't you see?' " Walt says. "And then we were gonna go home."

But that didn't happen.

Walt and Ester say police did question them a little but did not read them their rights. Then, around 3 a.m., they were herded into buses again and taken to jail.

"So I remember as soon as I got off the bus and he got off the bus, I went to give him a kiss," Ester says. "And the guard pulled me and pulled him, and we're like being pulled away as we're trying to kiss each other. And we never got to kiss. And then that was it 'til I saw him again 18 days later."

Police detained 239 people at the Twin Peaks crime scene. The majority of those people — 177 in all — were ultimately arrested.

Sgt. Patrick Swanton of the Waco Police Department says there was good reason to make all of those arrests.

"We do believe that there was probable cause to put those individuals in jail," Swanton says. "Otherwise we wouldn't have put them in jail."

All of those arrested initially received a $1,000,000 bond.

Most suspects, including the Weavers, hired lawyers, got their bonds reduced, and eventually got released. According to the Waco Tribune, only four individuals arrested that day remain in jail.

But still, Walt and Ester are on a curfew, they can't associate with other members of motorcycle clubs, and they could still be indicted. Walt says he can't believe this happened in his state.

"This is Texas," Walt says. "This is a good Republican red state. They don't violate people's rights here. Take that to Chicago, New York, not here."

Frustrations Over Roundup And Arrests

The Waco Police's Swanton says the Weavers, like all of the other suspects, will be able to make their case in court.

"They will be allowed to have their say," Swanton says. "The criminal justice system is working as it should."

It's not just the Weavers who are upset. A lot of people who were arrested that day say they are innocent, that they had nothing to do with the two outlaw biker clubs that got into a fight.

And these are people who usually support the police. Walt and Ester, for instance, say that they've taken cops out to lunch.

Now, some people in Waco are starting to believe police planned the Twin Peaks incident as a way to round up bikers. Police deny this.

Walt and Ester's lawyer, Lewis Giles, says it's more likely that tempers got hot, a fight broke out, and a few people committed deadly violence.

He says the bystanders shouldn't have been arrested for simply being at a restaurant, riding motorcyles, legally carrying guns, and wearing black leather vests with club patches.

"That is literally a case of the fashion police," says Giles.

Defense lawyers are pressing police to release video from security cameras that recorded what happened in Waco that day, but police and prosecutors have opposed releasing video and other evidence pending the official investigation.

Swanton says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI are assisting in the case, analyzing video as well as autopsy results and ballistic reports.

"There are lots of pieces of evidence that are getting processed by other entities," says Swanton. "I think what's so important for our citizens to understand is that we're working on timelines of other people."

For now, Walt Weaver says he just wants an apology. But he says he doubts he'll get one.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Walt Weaver still can't believe he was arrested on a Sunday afternoon in Waco, Texas.

WALT WEAVER: Two months ago, if you'd have told me that this could happen to this many people in the manner in which it was done, I'd have looked you in the eye and called you a liar.

MCEVERS: Two months ago, Walt Weaver and his wife, Ester, were among 177 people arrested after a bloody shootout in a restaurant parking lot.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Nine people were shot dead during what police say was a fight between two rival motorcycle clubs. Most of the people who were rounded up and arrested have been released on bail. Many, like the Weavers, say that they have nothing to do with outlaw biker gangs and nothing to do with the violence. And we're going to hear more about them now.

MCEVERS: I actually met Walt and Ester Weaver during a recent trip to Waco, Texas. Walt is a veteran who still works for the Army. He rides a Harley and says he used to be in motorcycle clubs but isn't in one now. Ester is a housewife. She wears a black leather vest with patches for the Queens of Sheba. It's a club that rides on weekends and collects money for charity. She says ever since she was arrested, people point and whisper.

ESTER WEAVER: I can tell by how people stare because I guess - well, we've been in the newspaper and on the Internet and, you know, just - it's put a bad cloud over us.

MCEVERS: It all started on a Sunday afternoon. Walt and Ester Weaver's plan was to go to a regular meeting of the Confederation of Clubs and Independents. It's a group that lobbies for bikers' rights. The meeting was set for 1 o'clock at a chain restaurant called Twin Peaks, which Walt and Ester say is famous for hangover burgers with fried eggs on them and underdressed waitresses.

W. WEAVER: I drove down in my truck and took four or five friends with me. She rode later when the weather cleared.

MCEVERS: On your bike?

E. WEAVER: On my bike.

W. WEAVER: On the motorcycle.

E. WEAVER: 'Cause he was buying my lunch. (Laughter).

MCEVERS: Walt says all kinds of motorcycle clubs were there that day. So-called outlaw clubs the police say are involved in drug trafficking and prostitution, but also Christian clubs and gear heads who restore old bikes.

W. WEAVER: Everybody was saying hello and shaking hands, you know - hey, Bob, haven't seen you since since the last charity event. Hey Bill, you know - Joe, let me introduce you to this other guy, Pete.

MCEVERS: While that was happening, Walt saw Ester park her bike and start to light a cigarette.

W. WEAVER: And she walked halfway towards me, and that's when I heard the first shots fired. I did not see where they came from. I stood there for a second. I'm like, are you kidding me? It's a sunny afternoon in the middle of Waco in Texas. This is not downtown Baghdad.

MCEVERS: People started running away from the shots. It's still unclear who was firing. Police say two main motorcycle clubs that had been at war for months - the Cossacks and the Bandidos - had planned to negotiate some kind of truce that day, though lawyers for the Bandidos say that's not true. Either way, police and witnesses say one Cossack was knocked down by a Bandido or a Bandido supporter in the parking lot. Guys from both sides rushed in, threw punches and then somebody started shooting. Police eventually fired shots, too. Walt Weaver bolted toward a little grassy hill at the edge of the parking lot. Ester Weaver did the same.

E. WEAVER: Then that's when I looked to the right, and I saw Walt on the ground as well. I was like OK, we're safe - he doesn't look like he's hurt or anything. And that was that.

MCEVERS: Police told everybody to stay on the ground.

W. WEAVER: If I remember right, there would be one policeman, he was pointing his weapon at your back. The other one would come to you and ask you if you had any weapons on you. You would say either yes or no.

MCEVERS: The answer was yes. Walt and Ester Weaver both had brand-new Smith and Wesson five-shot revolvers. They say they didn't draw their guns that day. Like many Texans, both have concealed handgun licenses and carry their guns most of the time. Eventually, the two were rounded up, handcuffed with zip ties and bussed with hundreds of other people to a nearby convention center.

W. WEAVER: The assumption was that they were going to keep us, we were going to make witness statements - what did you see, what didn't you see? And then we were going to go home.

MCEVERS: But that didn't happen. Walt and Ester say police did question them a little, but did not read them their rights. Then around 3 in the morning, they were herded into buses again and taken to jail.

E. WEAVER: So I remember as soon as I got off the bus, I went to give him a kiss, and the guard pulled me and pulled him, and we're, like, being pulled away as we're trying to kiss each other. And we never got to kiss. And then that was it till I saw him again 18 days later.

MCEVERS: Along with nearly 200 other people, Walt and Ester Weaver were jailed on charges of engaging in an organized criminal activity and given a $1 million bond. Here's Waco Police spokesman Patrick Swanton the day after the shootout at Twin Peaks restaurant.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PATRICK SWANTON: A hundred-seventy individuals have been charged with engaging in organized crime in reference to a capital murder case at Twin Peaks. That basically says that 170 people have been involved in capital murder.

MCEVERS: That number later went up to 177. Many suspects, including the Weavers, hired lawyers, got their bonds reduced and eventually got released. But still, Walt and Ester Weaver are on a curfew. They can't associate with other members of motorcycle clubs and they still could be indicted. Walt Weaver says he still can't believe this happened in his state.

W. WEAVER: This is Texas. This is a good Republican red state. They don't violate people's rights here.

E. WEAVER: They don't do stuff like that.

W. WEAVER: Take that up to Chicago and New York, not here.

MCEVERS: It's not just the Weavers who are upset. A lot of people who were arrested that day say they're innocent, that they had nothing to do with the two outlaw biker clubs who got in a fight. And these are people who usually support the police. Walt and Ester Weaver used to take cops out to lunch. Now some people in Waco are starting to believe the whole Twin Peaks incident was actually planned by police as a way to round up bikers. Police deny this. Walt and Ester Weaver's lawyer, Lewis Giles, says it's more likely that tempers got hot, a fight broke out and a few people committed deadly violence. He says the bystanders shouldn't have been arrested for simply being at a restaurant, riding motorcycles, legally carrying guns and wearing black leather vests with club patches.

LEWIS GILES: That is literally a case of the fashion police.

MCEVERS: A spokesman for the Waco Police told us the Weavers and others will have their say in court. Defense lawyers are pressing police to release video from security cameras that recorded what happened in Waco that day. For now, Walt Weaver says he just wants an apology, but he doubts he'll get one. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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