Police: Waco shooting spurred from biker gang ‘turf war’

Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton addresses the media as law enforcement continues to investigate the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant, Monday, May 18, 2015, in Waco, Texas, where nine were killed Sunday and over a dozen injured. About 170 gang members charged with engaging in organized crime are each being held on a $1 million bond and authorities say charges of capital murder are expected in the wake of the Central Texas shooting. (AP Photo, Jerry Larson)

WACO, Texas (KXAN) — The biker-gang shooting at a Twin Peaks that left nine people dead and 18 others injured spurred from what Waco Police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton says they’re calling a “turf war.” The shooting broke out on a day where a group of biker members gathered for a planned meeting in the restaurant’s outdoor bar area.

Police sources told KXAS that the shooting was tied to a pair of events last December, which included a beating at a Toys for Tots event in Wise County and a murder in Fort Worth. And Swanton is asking for a truce between these biker gangs involved in Sunday’s shootout.

“Violence condones more violence … Is this over? Most likely not. We would ask for it to be,” he said. “Let the bloodshed stop.”

Swanton said the meeting was for a coalition of several bike groups invited to the Twin Peaks restaurant. They had reserved the outdoor bar area, specifically for a meeting that they were having for a group of invited biker gangs, he said.

“We know an additional biker gang that was not invited to this meeting showed up,” said Swanton, sparking what authorities are calling a “turf war.” “When they showed up, they caused a disturbance.”

Investigators believe the disturbance began in the parking lot, but Swanton says it may go beyond a parking incident — where someone may have run over someone else’s foot. The crime scene spans inside and outside of the restaurant, including a bathroom, restaurant and bar areas.

Swanton says investigators have been working feverishly to get family members of those killed notified. Once that happens, their identities will be released. What he could say was that those jailed, killed or injured were not from the Waco area. Meanwhile, seven people are still in the hospital — stable and improving.

About 170 motorcycle gang members were charged with engaging in organized crime. The shooting is considered a capital murder case “because of the number of people killed in one episode.” The crowd of suspects was so large that authorities opened a convention center to hold them all before they were arrested, police said. McLennan County Justice of the Peace W.H. Peterson set bond at $1 million for each suspect. KXAN has learned that one of those suspects arrested is City of Austin Public Works Department employee Juan Garcia, 45.

“It’s my understanding that there was some type of altercation inside. We know that we have blood on the inside of Twin Peaks, as well as numerous pieces of evidence — both inside and out,” said Swanton. “This is a lengthy process for those investigators to determine what occurred when we have people not being truthful with us about what went on inside and outside the restaurant.”

As for “credible, reliable” death threats from biker gangs made against uniformed police officers, Swanton says those have “toned down a bit over the past 24 hours.”

“There’s been enough bloodshed in Waco, Texas. We would appreciate there not being anymore,” he said. “We are asking them to stand down. We are asking them to let us sort through our investigation.”

Lead detectives are working in cooperation with the Texas Rangers and the Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Intelligence Division. And while the investigation will be a lengthy one — one Swanton says could go on for months — police are promising: “We will figure that out.”

Some 18 Waco police officers and four Texas Department of Public Safety officers were involved in the gunfight in a matter of seconds, according to Swanton. Off-duty officers even responded to the incident. He also added that they are in the process of going through “every blood spot” and “every body” involved in the shootout that spanned a large area.

It started with a fist fight in the bathroom of the restaurant near the intersection of Interstate 35 and State Highway 6 Sunday afternoon in Waco. It spilled into the bar, where it quickly escalated into knife fight — and then out into the parking lot where a gun battle raged between five different biker gangs and heavily armed police. Swanton says the shooting began inside the restaurant and spilled out into the parking lot and surrounding area.

Three bodies were found in the immediate Twin Peaks parking lot, and another four were found throughout the extended parking lot. Eight people died at the scene, and another person died at the hospital. Most of the injured either had stab wounds or gunshot wounds — or both. Two people had to be take out of the Waco area because of the severity of the injuries, and most of the others injured were taken to Scott & White Baylor Hillcrest.

Authorities continue to comb through evidence that spans the shopping center. They moved motorcycles by the truckload on flatbeds overnight, but they still have 80 cars and pickups remaining at the scene that contain evidence or have been involved in the crime scene in one way or another. Investigators are working on towing all of those as well.

Could it have been prevented?

Under a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission mandate, the restaurant shut down its alcohol sales for the next six days as the investigation continues. The restaurant’s corporate officials later said they wereimmediately revoking its franchise agreement, and Waco police are urging the restaurant to remain closed entirely — at least for the next week — out of respect for the incident.

“What happened here today could have been avoided,” Swanton told the media during a news conference. He went on to say that police alerted the restaurant to the threat of violence and that the manager was asked to discontinue ‘bike night.’”

Swanton says police presence has been at that Twin Peaks for about two months now, adding that this incident wasn’t the first Sunday that they’d been out there.

“They were aware that there were issues here. We have been working with management here — to no avail. And I have to say: That was local management here,” said Swanton. “We told them of the issues. We tried to get assistance from them in dealing with this crowd, but they would not cooperate … There was a statement that local management put out last night that was absolute fabrication. It was a lie.”

Jay Patel, operating partner of the Twin Peaks Waco franchise, offered up a statement on Facebook.

“We are horrified by the criminal, violent acts that occurred outside of our Waco restaurant today. We share in the community’s trauma. Our priority is to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for our customers and employees, and we consider the police our partners in doing so. Our management team has had ongoing and positive communications with the police, and we will continue to work with them as we all want to keep violent crime out of our businesses and community. We will continue to cooperate with the police as they investigate this terrible crime.”

Swanton doesn’t agree.

“We feel like they could’ve done more. We feel like that they did not take our advice and try to keep the bike groups from being here,” said Swanton on Sunday after the shooting. “They absolutely have a right to refuse service to people that may be a harm to their patrons and employees. They didn’t do that, and today is the ultimate aftermath of what their decision was.”

Swanton says that the police department has had officers in plain clothes — in large numbers — at the restaurant for the past two months. He also said there have been several arrests stemming from incidents at Twin Peaks, most of them minor skirmishes, warrant arrests and arrests of that nature.

“As of about a week ago, we were in contact with the national management of Twin Peaks because we were getting no cooperation locally, and we were going to them for assistance,” said Swanton. “People have civil rights. Until a law is broken, there’s nothing we can do if we don’t have management to support — to assist us — in keeping individuals out of a business. There’s nothing we can do until a law is broken.”

No bystanders were hurt, despite another packed restaurant just 25 feet from the gun battle.

As bikers from across the state began to pour into town Sunday afternoon, Waco police decided to close the mall where the restaurant is located.

While five different gangs are believed to be involved in the fight, officers on scene said it appeared some of the gangs appeared to be in alliance with one another.

Twin Peaks corporate statement

“We are in the people business, and the safety of the employees and guests in our restaurants is priority one. Unfortunately, the management team of the franchised restaurant in Waco chose to ignore the warnings and advice from both the police and our company, and did not uphold the high security standards we have in place to ensure everyone is safe at our restaurants. We will not tolerate the actions of this relatively new franchisee and are revoking their franchise agreement immediately. Our sympathies continue to be with the families of those who died and are very thankful on employees, guests, police officers of bystanders were hurt or injured.”

Statement from Twin Peaks Waco franchisee

We are working hard to learn the facts about the violence that occurred outside our Waco restaurant yesterday, and that process has just begun. We are horrified by this violence and express our deepest sympathy to all those impacted by it.

It is important to clarify that, to the best of our knowledge, law enforcement officials did not ask either the Waco restaurant operator (with whom they spoke several times) or the Twin Peaks franchisor to cancel the patio reservation that was made on Sunday. Based on the information to date, we also believe that the violence began outside in the area of the parking lot, and not inside our restaurant or on our patio, as has been widely reported.

We are disappointed that the franchisor, Twin Peaks, made a sudden decision to cancel our Waco franchise before all of the facts are learned. We will continue to assist the authorities in any way possible that will assist in their efforts to bring the wrongdoers to justice.

We are in the process of gathering additional facts, and urge that people avoid rushing to judgment before those facts are fully known.

Why Waco?

Waco’s proximity to Austin and Dallas, by way of Interstate 35 and less-traveled highways, has made it a popular destination for bikers since the 1970s. The city has several biker bars on the outskirts bearing signs barring gang members from wearing “colors” inside.

Investigators in Waco say the gangs involved in Sunday’s violence were apparently in town in effort to recruit new members.

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