Judge: Prosecutor has 'substantial' stake in Waco biker case

WACO, Texas (AP) — A federal judge has questioned whether the Texas district attorney prosecuting bikers arrested in a deadly melee outside a Waco restaurant has a conflict of interest because he's also being sued for his handling of the shootout that left nine people dead.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks also said it "makes one wonder" why 154 bikers were indicted following the May 2015 shootout outside the now-closed Twin Peaks restaurant, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/2b5iQ4D ). Sparks did not ask attorneys to respond to that comment during a June hearing in Austin, according to a transcript obtained by the newspaper.

"It's just so far from all of the experiences I've had. It's just staggering to think of the problems," said Sparks, referring to the number of people indicted.

Sparks is overseeing a civil lawsuit that several indicted bikers filed against McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, the Waco police chief and others law enforcement officials. The bikers claim they were unlawfully arrested and jailed under $1 million bonds with no justification or evidence of wrongdoing.

Sparks is not presiding over the criminal case. On Monday, a hearing in state district court in Waco begins over whether Reyna should be disqualified from prosecuting the cases. Reyna is opposing those efforts while simultaneously trying to stop the civil lawsuits against him in federal court.

"These people have a substantial interest. They're being sued in their personal as well as official capacities," said Sparks, referring to Reyna and others named in the lawsuit.

Dallas attorney Don Tittle, who represents 15 bikers suing Reyna, said that although district attorneys usually can't be sued that immunity is lost, he said, when a prosecutor "steps into the role of the police." Records filed in the case show Waco police officials had already interviewed, identified and photographed a busload of bikers detained that afternoon and decided to send them home when Reyna and two of his top assistants arrived at the Waco Convention Center, where bikers were being held.

Attorneys for the bikers have claimed from that point on, almost every biker was jailed under $1 million bonds after Reyna gave orders to arrest anyone with ties to rival biker groups the Bandidos or Cossacks.

"If you are asking me personally, unless the county has already told Reyna that they will pay for any jury verdicts against him, then he clearly and without a doubt has a direct financial interest in virtually every case he is prosecuting," Tittle said.

Neither Reyna nor his attorney returned calls to the newspaper for comment.

Sparks called the situation a "logjam" and has not ruled on whether the civil lawsuit will proceed.


Information from: Waco Tribune-Herald, http://www.wacotrib.com