SPUR OF THE MOMENT DECISION HAS A STATEWIDE EFFECT
Detective J.R. Price’s report on the aborted capital murder investigation in which he played a walk-on part as Six Shooter’s most experienced detective in officer-involved shootings is like reading a script writer’s treatment of a sequence from a horror show.
First of all, consider the setting.
David Lynch makes movies about murder, dismemberment, mephistophelian strangers haunting lost highways, all with a lilting and understated sense of menace.
He set one of his most successful efforts amid the snow-capped peaks of Washington’s Snoqualmie Valley, and the concept became so popular among cult film devotees that a group of franchisers marketed a chain of bistros featuring large-breasted young ladies in skimpy costumes, brewskis guaranteed to be 29 degrees, hamburgers so thick you need a jack to get your mouth around them, and a reputation as a slightly raunchy spot to kick back and watch a ball game with the guys – a ballsy string of joints suitable for gentlemen fresh from the deer lease, the trout stream, the golf links, bass tournaments, and the odd dove shoot.
Bikers riding hand made assembled, custom built Harleys worth in excess of $20,000 became attracted to the Twin Peaks locations, too.
Add gallons of gore, bodies sprawled amid dumped Milwaukee iron, dudes in black-t-shirts and blue jeans with no boots or belts sitting cross-legged on the white stripes of a parking lot – and you begin to get the picture.
But it doesn’t gel until you get a load of Price’s narrative about what he obviously considered el mondo bizarro about the presto-change-o nature of a DA’s investigation derailing a cop shop intent on nailing the perpetrators of a brutal mass murder touched off by a violent confrontation between burly mesomorphs laying around the lick log for an opportunity to stomp the jelly out of an enemy – a happening he considered a slam dunk case of capital murder.
It was a Sunday, so Price begins by saying that when he arrived at 2:45 p.m., his first order of business was to meet with the officers who had busted caps in the “shootout,” the “melee,” the “massacre,” the “gang fight,” or whatever description the gifted gabbers of the small screen and the black & white prints both slick and news sheet are calling it after 52 long weeks of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“I was able to meet with the officers and their legal representatives that had arrived from CLEAT (Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas), as well as Sgt. Holt who was also present and had remained with the officers until such time I could arrive…”
Before he met with each officer – he doesn’t say whom or how many their number – “I secured their rifles that were used in the shooting.” They were examined by ballistics experts for evidence to be presented to the Grand Jury as a matter of routine. All that was done under a separate investigation.
Because ballistics evidence is excepted from the Texas Public Information Act, we the people will never know much about the results of tests ATF tool mark examiners did on the weapons unless that information is elicited from expert witnesses as court testimony.
If – that’s the biggest word in the English language – like the fella said.
After watching the crime scene video, most combat veterans see a pattern of dudes going down bloody and shot while those around them fight on, unconcerned. They suspect sniper fire from concealed positions fired from rifles outfitted with suppressors. The wounds match the autopsy reports.
At 10:30 p.m., his fellow detective Alston called to say it was time to wrap it up and report to the Waco Convention Center downtown on the banks of the Brazos for a meeting with the prosecutors.
When he got there an hour later, he noticed that not only were there loads of investigators from the Waco Police Department, but also the Sheriff’s Office, DPS, and other agencies from the surrounding area.
That is code for a well-known fact among cops that is not so well-known among the public. When people are killed by police gunfire, the law enforcement agency by which they are employed customarily turns the investigation over to investigators from another agency, such as the Texas Rangers, or the Internal Affairs Bureau. Ask any harness bull if that’s not a separate agency.
You will get a quick assurance that it sure doesn’t have much to do with what he and his brothers in arms do every day on the job.
Senior law enforcement officers with long-term experience say they have long considered the Waco practice of investigating such matters in-house as a sign of arrogance, if not just plain old poor judgment.
You might say it wasn’t Price’s first rodeo. He may have had some ideas about what he was looking at, and it kind of sounds like it, reading his narrative. In fact, it seems to have attracted the attention of an experienced criminal defense lawyer from the metropolitan Philadelphia area, Abigail Anastasio.
She is representing a defendant charged – along with all the rest of them – with engaging in organized criminal activity. His name is Ray Nelson.
Ms. Anastasio told the ladies and gentlemen of the media on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, at high noon – about the same time of day when shots rang out at Twin Peaks on Sunday, May 17, 2015 – that there is a big difference in a prosecutor’s office advising law enforcement during investigations and “commandeering” them.
She wants the Judge, Matt Johnson of the 54th Judicial District, to disqualify the top three prosecutors in the McLennan County District Attorney’s office because they adamantly demanded the cops change their minds about the entire affair and so charge everyone with a patch – Cossacks or Bandidos, or support clubs, or patches that say “I support the Fat Mexican,” or bear the colors red and gold or black and gold, or basically, any sign of representing what they decided to call a “criminal street gang” because there is a manual published by the DPS that says that’s how things are.
In fact, Price was pretty sure they had already talked it over between all the detectives from the Sheriff’s Office, the Waco Police, the DPS – and come to that decision.
You can’t miss the surprised tone in his narrative.
“I did confirm that detectives had already started the process of interviewing members of not only those two motorcycle clubs as well as others that were present at the Twin Peaks Restaurant. I was given information that at least one City Bus had left the Convention Center with individuals that had already been interviewed, indicating they had been released after items such as their ‘colors’ and other personal property that would be released after investigation.”
And then comes the clincher: I also confirmed that a representative from the District Attorney’s Office had asked all of the detectives to stop their interviews and go to one of the conference rooms for a meeting.
There, he learned, DA Abel Reyna and his assistants Michael Jarrett and Mark Parker had reached a decision to charge everyone with the first degree felony of engaging in organized criminal behavior that led to capital murder and/or aggravated assault.
He added that DPS “had classified these two motorcycle clubs (Bandidos and Cossacks) as Criminal Street Gangs. I was aware of an ongoing investigation and intelligence that had been coming into their agency, that DPS had been sharing with other local Police Agencies, since at least February or March of 2015.” Anyone documented to have supported them by wearing a patch should be charged with “ENGAGING IN ORGANIZED CRIME,” a charge which carries a penalty of from five years to life in prison upon conviction.
Everyone was charged with an identical affidavit alleging no specific complaint other than the foregoing, he noted – more than once.
Price also made it clear that the affidavit was written by the DA’s staff and that Detective Chavez of the Special Crimes Unit, a part of the Criminal Investigation Division, was directed to sign the documents.
It is no secret among law men that Price objected to the practice at the time. It is rumored that other investigators were loathe to sign the affidavits.
It is also no secret that purveyors of alcoholic beverages are at pains to keep motorcycle enthusiasts wearing anything indicating a motorcycle club affiliation out of their places of business due to a movement to report them to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for investigation.
That recommendation carries an automatic 28-day suspension of their license to operate as a tavern, ice house, cocktail lounge, bar, restaurant or whatever else the legal types at the state house choose to call their operation if it sells any beverage containing alcohol.
Tough to make it in a cold beer town if it be that way, huh?
Hey, Mr. Bartender…etc.
So mote it be.