David Montgomery et al., New York Times, May 18, 2015
The police charged about 170 people on Monday in the shootout among rival motorcycle gangs at a busy shopping plaza in this Central Texas city on Sunday that left at least nine bikers dead and 18 others wounded.
Law enforcement officials said the midday gun battle was primarily between the Bandidos and Cossacks gangs, a continuation of a long-running feud between the two groups, though members of the Scimitars–a gang affiliated with the Cossacks–and two other motorcycle clubs were also involved.
The people arrested after the shootout at the Twin Peaks restaurant, in south Waco, were charged with engaging in organized crime linked to capital murder, said Sgt. Patrick Swanton, a Waco Police Department spokesman. It will be up to prosecutors and a grand jury to decide what charges they will ultimately face, but capital murder charges can carry the death penalty.
The episode, which left the restaurant and its parking lot littered with bullet shell casings and blood spatters, was so large and chaotic that for several hours the police were not sure how many people they had detained. Sergeant Swanton said Monday morning that the figure was 192 but he later revised it to 170, warning that it might change again, and said that rather than overwhelm the jail, the police used Waco’s Convention Center as a staging area overnight to hold those arrested.
With hundreds of bikers gathered at the restaurant, at the Central Texas Marketplace shopping plaza just off Interstate 35, the police anticipated trouble and were out in force before the confrontation. There were 18 Waco officers and four Texas Department of Public Safety officers there, and they closed in “within 30, 45 seconds” of the start of shooting, Sergeant Swanton said.
“There were multiple people on the scene firing weapons at each other,” Sergeant Swanton said. “They then turned on our officers. Our officers returned gunfire, wounding and possibly killing several.”
The gunfire erupted about 12:15 p.m. on Sunday. Sergeant Swanton said the violence began in a restaurant restroom, and then spilled into the parking lot, initially involving just fists and feet, but escalating quickly to chains, knives, clubs and firearms. He said shots were fired both inside and outside.
No officers, shoppers or bystanders were hurt. The authorities said their decision to place officers outside the restaurant before the gunfire erupted most likely saved lives.
Both the Bandidos and the Cossacks originated in Texas in the 1960s, according to law enforcement officials and gang historians. Last year, two members of the Bandidos, including the president of the Abilene chapter, were indicted on charges of stabbing two other men, in what the police said was a conflict with the Cossacks.
“The view of the Bandidos is that Texas is their state,” said Terry Katz, vice president of the International Association of Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators, a group of about 600 analysts, investigators, police officers and prosecutors. The Bandidos “are the big dogs of Texas,” he said, but the smaller Cossacks gang was “not going to bow down,” and there has been a series of violent confrontations between them.
Bikers were gathering at the Twin Peaks restaurant for a regional meeting of the Confederation of Clubs and Independents, an umbrella group for rival gangs and other motorcyclists to discuss matters of mutual interest. The Bandidos are part of the confederation, but the Cossacks are not, said Gimmi Jimmy, national ambassador for the Bandidos and chairman of a statewide coalition of motorcycle clubs in Texas.
“We were there not to engage in criminal activity but to discuss and fight for our rights,” Mr. Jimmy said. “The only reason I am not in jail is that I got there late,” Mr. Jimmy said. “We have been doing this for 18 years and we never had a problem.”
He said about 200 bikers were there for the meeting, and about 50 to 60 from rival groups like the Cossacks and Scimitars. One of those killed was a Bandido, he said, and the rest were their opponents.
In the 1990s, a turf war broke out between gangs aligned with the Bandidos and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Several members of the Bandidos and the Hells Angels were killed or wounded in the Nordic feud. In 1996, a shoulder-launched antitank grenade was fired at a Hells Angels headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark, killing two people and injuring 15 others. The next year, a bombing destroyed the Norwegian headquarters of the Bandidos gang, killing a passer-by.
And yet the Bandidos group has at times sought to portray itself as a legitimate organization of nonconformists that had been unfairly targeted by law enforcement. A gang report by the Texas Department of Public Safety issued last year noted that the Bandidos “seek to turn public sentiment in their favor by organizing frequent charity runs.” In 2001, Jan Christensen, who is known as “The Man” and was vice president of the Bandidos’ Northwest Houston chapter at the time, told The Houston Chronicle, “Mainstream America should be more like us. We’re all very honorable men.”