FORT WORTH, Texas — When two rival motorcycle gangs clashed outside a Texas restaurant, the violence took many forms — handguns, knives, clubs, brass knuckles. After the melee was over, nine bikers were dead, their bodies sprawled on the pavement, surrounded by blood and shell casings.
Four months after the shootout, authorities have released almost nothing about the gunfight beyond a vague initial description of a brawl that spiraled out of control.
But evidence reviewed by The Associated Press now confirms that the gunfire included rounds fired by police that hit bikers, though it isn’t clear whether those rifle shots caused any of the fatalities.
The AP reviewed more than 8,800 pages of evidence related to the May 11 confrontation, including many police reports. Reporters also viewed dash-cam video and photos and listened to audio interviews. Together, the evidence offers the best insight yet into how the shootout unfolded.
Investigators have offered scant details about what sparked the fight or how the gunfire played out, and no one has been charged with any of the deaths.
The trove of evidence — expected to be presented to a grand jury — includes dashboard video of people fleeing the scene while shots ring out, audio of police threatening to shoot people if they rise from the ground and photos of bodies lying in pools of blood in the restaurant parking lot.
The gunfire erupted shortly before a meeting of a coalition of motorcycle clubs that advocates for rider safety. Waco police were aware of the potential for violence and assigned 16 officers to watch over the gathering. State police were also present.
Many witnesses, including bikers and waitresses at the Twin Peaks restaurant, told police that the shooting began after a Bandido rider hit a prospective member of the Cossacks with his motorcycle. A fistfight ensued, followed by several minutes of shooting, according to the evidence reviewed by the AP.
Bikers and drivers can be seen on video fleeing the restaurant parking lot on foot and in vehicles while officers carrying rifles run to the scene. As shots pop off in the background, an officer swears repeatedly.
The aftermath looked like a combat scene.
“Bloodied bodies were lying all over. Guns and knives were strewn about everywhere,” officer Phillip Zboril wrote in a report.
Back in June, Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman said three officers fired a total of 12 shots, but police have never said whether those bullets struck anyone, fatally or otherwise.
Officer George Vrail was assigned to a special detail to cover the meeting and wrote in a 724-page incident report that he saw two officers during the shootout who “had multiple suspects down on the ground.”
The officers told him they had been “engaged” by gunfire as they got out of their marked police car. Both of them returned fire and “struck multiple suspects with their patrol rifles.”
In his portion of the incident report, officer Keith Vaughn wrote that another officer spotted a man shooting into the crowd and told Vaughn that he fired one round “to stop the individual from shooting anyone else.”
Police and prosecutors have said that there is video footage that shows Bandidos and Cossacks shooting at one another. The AP has reviewed video from Twin Peaks and an adjacent restaurant, but neither shows clearly who is shooting at whom.
At least 20 people were treated for gunshot wounds and other injuries.
Waco police spokesman Patrick Swanton declined to comment on the evidence, citing a gag order in the criminal case of one of the bikers. Media organizations, including the AP, have gone to court to fight the order, which they contend is overly broad and unconstitutional.
According to the incident report, a separate Waco police investigation into the police shootings was underway as of July 20. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is conducting ballistics analyses. ATF spokeswoman Nicole Strong declined to comment.
Following the shooting, 177 people were arrested and held for days or weeks on $1 million bonds on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity. But no one has been indicted, and it remains unclear whose bullets struck the dead and wounded.
Also unclear is when a grand jury will hear the evidence, which has been shared with criminal defense attorneys.
More than 430 weapons were recovered from the crime scene, including 151 guns, according to the incident report. Many weapons were taken from bikers. Others were recovered from vehicles, bushes outside the restaurant and the men’s bathroom, where two pistols were found in toilets, photos show.
Authorities did not know exactly what to do with the large number of weapons and “just started laying them on the ground away from the suspects,” officer Joshua Fischer wrote in a report.
After the shooting ceased, an officer asked everyone with a weapon to raise a hand, according to the incident report. Nearly everyone did.
The bikers were taken to the Waco convention center for processing and were told on the way that they were going to be interviewed as witnesses, according to a 430-page Texas Department of Public Safety report that corroborates what arrested bikers have told AP.
But prosecutors decided late that night to arrest the majority of those detained.
District Attorney Abel Reyna and his staff told authorities at the convention center that anyone wearing a patch, clothing or insignia that indicated support for the Bandidos or Cossacks should be charged with engaging in organized crime, according to the report.
Reyna did not return calls seeking comment.