A civil rights violation lawsuit was filed last Friday by one of those arrested at the Waco Shootout. The facts alleged in the complaint, if true, only confirms what I have believed all along.
Matthew Clendennen, a member of the Scimitars Motorcycle Club, filed the lawsuit. Clendennen has no prior criminal record, is a former member of two fire departments in Texas, has a graduate degree in business and finance from Baylor University, and is a self-employed business owner with six employees. He is also the father of two children; one with his current wife and has he custody of his first child.
When this story first broke, a lot of facts were not adding up. The most important fact was why a $1,000,000 bond was set per biker? It seemed excessive to say the least. As I wrote in a prior post– with time, the facts would be revealed.
For one, all those arrested were charged with engaging in “organized crime.” These might be common charges in situations such as the Italian Mafia where they have been under surveillance for months at a time or one of its members gets arrested and decides to “flip.” Or, if law enforcement has infiltrated a gang and has enough evidence to proceed with criminal prosecutions against multiple members. But, I haven’t seen it with these type of facts and just one incident.
I was waiting for the bikers to be charged individually, but, these trumped-up charges has resulted in criminal defense attorneys throughout the country stating that the Waco State Attorney’s Office has their work cut-out for them. I agree. With the facts presented, I fail to see how “organized crime” charges will stick.
The issue with a $1 million dollar bond was also mind boggling until now. The arrest warrants were issued by a Justice of the Peace, not a judge!
A Justice of the Peace has the authority to hear misdemeanor cases if no jail time is sought and in civil cases not exceeding $10,000 (small claims courts). The Justice of the Peace that issued the arrest warrants, Walter H. “Pete” Peterson, is a former Public Safety Trooper with no formal legal training; meaning he is not a judge nor an attorney!
While I am no expert on 4th Amendment Illegal Search/Seizure law, I do have 16 years of experience in the law as an attorney, that of course after 3 years of law school and passing the Florida bar exam. I also teach 4th Amendment law at the undergraduate collegiate level, which means I definitely have more experience than Justice Peterson.
With that being said, with cases as legally complex as this one, at a minimum, a judge with criminal law experience should have issued the warrants. My original question of what kind of a judge would issue a $1 million bond in these cases was finally answered- NO JUDGE!
To have a Justice of the Peace with no formal legal education issue the arrest warrants in a high profile legally complex criminal case, makes a mockery of our legal system. Or, was Justice Peterson chosen because the Waco Police Department knew he would rubber stamp the arrest warrants?
Of course, the attorneys involved, have proceeded to file motions on bond reductions and habeas corpus writs, but from what I have read, those hearings aren’t scheduled until August. In the meantime, everyone is being held on a $1 million dollar bond and those like Clendennen, will be at risk of losing their homes and businesses, while their bikes sit impounded at a tow yard. Up to now, only one person was able to post bond.
The Complaint Affidavit that was filed with the lawsuit, mentions that Bandidos Motorcycle Club and the Cossacks Motorcycle Club are “criminal gangs” according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, but it doesn’t state that for Scimitars Motorcycle Club; a crucial fact that was omitted. An oversight? As a matter of fact, it seems the same arrest affidavit was submitted for all the bikers arrested with the only difference is filling in their names and dates of birth in the areas left blank. Rubber stamp?
The surveillance video from Twin Peaks has yet to be released to the public, but it was shown to the Associated Press which reported it is clear one shot was fired from one club member to another. This occurred outside, not inside as reported by the Waco Police Department. They were there, not sure how they got that wrong.
From there, bikers start running into the restaurant to hide inside, which included the kitchen and the bathroom. There is even footage of bikers waving to patrons of the restaurant to take cover. When the police entered the restaurant, there were already bikers spread eagle on the floor.
Unfortunately, too many bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts who happened to be present were arrested as well, including one club member of Vice Grip Motorcycle Club, which is comprised of mechanics who work on vintage bikes, especially Harley Davidsons.
There seems no doubt so far that the Waco Police Department has overreacted by arresting anyone and everyone that was there, whether part of the shooting or not, including groups that meet at Twin Peaks twice a month to discuss bikers’ rights.
What this means is if someone like me who is not privy to the happenings of the motorcycle community is in Waco and sees a couple of hundred of motorcycles parked at one location, I’m thinking great- a motorcycle party or event. I would have been the first one to stop, hang out, talk to the bikers about what roads to take, etc… only to be arrested and sit in jail with a ridiculous $1 million bond that was issued by someone who doesn’t have the qualifications to make such a determination in the first place.
Too many “were at the wrong place at the wrong time” and the price for that is $100,000 out of pocket plus attorney’s fees. Meanwhile, Dennis Hastert, the former House Speaker who has been indicted for violating banking laws and using $3.5 million in funds as hush money to hide “prior wrong-doings,” well… his bond was set at $4,500.
A few days ago I told a friend how I thought this would play out- so I’ll do it now.
A very large percentage of these cases will be dismissed all together or reduced plea offers will be made most likely to misdemeanor offenses. Those offers will mostly likely be accepted because litigation is expensive and many would want to put this behind them and move on with their lives. However, how many will seek lawsuits based on violations of their civil rights?
The state will be applying pressure for convictions in their plea offers or maybe even push cases to trial to obtain convictions because a conviction will make it that much harder to win a civil rights lawsuit. A civil rights lawsuit will not only be expensive if lost for the city of Waco, but it also means more litigation and more scrutiny for the clubs, which they may wish to avoid all together. One thing is for sure; there are more twists and turns to this case than a ride on the Dragon.
Regardless, it’s time for the bikers in Texas to unite and start scheduling rallies all over Texas to bring further attention to this case and with luck, some investigative reporting will be done. At these rallies, donations should be collected for a defense fund for the bikers. They need help now more than ever, whether club members or not, they are entitled to a defense by competent counsel!
Good luck to all those arrested.