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Police investigating Waco biker melee remain on guard

9 bikers killed stilll unidentified

A police officer inspects a weapon removed from a vehicle in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant.Mike Stone/REUTERS

WACO, Texas — Investigating the gun battle here that killed nine motorcycle gang members and put about 170 in jail, the police said on Tuesday that they were still not sure how many were killed by officers and that they remained on guard against renewed violence, though that threat seemed to have eased.

The authorities have released mug shots of at least 51 of those arrested in the brawl-turned-shootout Sunday afternoon at the Twin Peaks restaurant. All were men, ranging in age from 24 to 45.

The police have not identified those who died — investigators have had trouble notifying some of their families, a task made harder by people who have called and falsely claimed to be relatives — but they expect to release the names soon, said Sergeant Patrick Swanton, a Waco Police Department spokesman. He also held out the possibility of more arrests of people involved in the mayhem.

The police have said the violence Sunday began as a dispute over parking, and Swanton said another element may have been one person running over another’s foot. But he acknowledged that piecing together what happened has been difficult, because of “people not being truthful with us about what went on inside and outside.”

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The investigation involves a daunting amount of evidence and number of suspects, and the Waco police are being helped by state law enforcement agencies, as well as the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

The authorities collected more than 100 guns, and more than 100 other weapons, including knives and chains with padlocks affixed to the ends. Swanton said the police were still combing through the restaurant, parking lot, and surrounding grounds, collecting bullet fragments and shell casings.

Responding to reports that four of the dead were shot by officers, Swanton said: “Is it possible? Yes. Is it a fact? No, because the autopsies are not complete.”

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The rival gangs that battled at the restaurant, part of a shopping center off Interstate 35 in south Waco, first took aim at each other, but officials have said that when officers stationed there tried to intervene, some of the bikers turned their guns on the police, who returned fire.

“There have been credible, reliable threats toward law enforcement in and around our area,” Swanton said Tuesday. “I will tell you those have toned down in the last 24 hours.”

After the shooting on Sunday, the state-run Texas Joint Crime Information Center issued an advisory that members of the two main gangs involved, the Bandidos and the Cossacks, “reportedly have been instructed to arm themselves with weapons and travel to North Texas.” The bulletin said the Bandidos were believed to have summoned additional members from Arkansas and New Mexico to commit violence against rival gangs and law enforcement officers.

“We certainly hope it doesn’t happen here, but if it does, we’re going to meet it head-on,” said the McLennan County sheriff, Parnell McNamara.

Law enforcement officials have been on what McNamara called a “high state of alert.”

Security concerns were acute enough that when flatbed trucks on Monday transported some of the 135 motorcycles impounded in the restaurant parking lot, they were accompanied by a SWAT team.

“In the biker-gang world, violence usually begets more violence,” Swanton said. “Is it over? Probably not.”

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J. Greg Gullion, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, said of Sunday’s shootout, “This is a declaration of war between motorcycle gangs, and this will turn into a long-lasting, bitter feud.”

The arrested bikers have been charged with engaging in organized crime related to capital murder, and bail has been set at $1 million for each of them. Officials said they were being held in group cells in the county jail, with members of different gangs kept apart.

C. Daniel Jones III, a lawyer representing an accused biker, Jimmy Dan Smith, said Tuesday that the district attorney’s office appeared “overwhelmed by the volume of activity.”

He said that he understood the concerns of officials who sought and set high bail, but he thought the $1 million bond was excessive for Smith, a 59-year-old shop manager for a construction company, who he said had no criminal history.

“I don’t think he did anything,” Jones said. “I think the problem is he was there and there was an injured person that he helped take to the hospital.”

According to gang leaders and law enforcement officials, a regional coalition of motorcycle clubs, including the Bandidos, one of the nation’s largest biker gangs and the dominant one in Texas, was gathering at the restaurant Sunday for a periodic meeting. Motorcyclists showed up from other gangs that had not been invited, including the Cossacks, bitter rivals of the Bandidos, and the Scimitars, a group affiliated with the Cossacks.

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In all, officials say, five gangs were involved.

Though the rivalry between the Bandidos and the Cossacks dates to the 1960s, when the clubs were established, in the past two years the two groups have had numerous run-ins.