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As questions remain unanswered about last month’s deadly biker rampage in Waco, Texas, police there are trying to clamp down on public information about the case.
The move comes as scrutiny intensifies over the Waco Police Department’s handling of the sensational shootout that killed nine bikers, injured 18 and saw an unprecedented 175 people arrested and charged with engaging in organized crime.
By law, crime and arrest reports containing basic data — information such as a detailed description of the offense and the name and a description of the victim — have to be provided.
While some details about the dead, including identities, have trickled out, officials have been slow to provide information through documented reports as required by the Texas Public Records Act.
Documents that have been released to Yahoo News appear to be haphazardously redacted. Even though required by law, the names of arresting officers are omitted. But the identities, addresses and other contact information of suspects’ next of kin are prevalent.
The melee unfolded during the lunch hour, as hundreds of bikers descended on the Twin Peaks restaurant for a regional motorcycle club meeting.
Still unknown is where each victim was killed and by whom. Police officers have acknowledged firing on armed bikers, but it is not clear how many of the dead were shot by gang members and how many were shot by officers.
Yahoo News submitted a written request on May 19 for reports related to the nine people who were shot and killed at the Twin Peaks restaurant.
On Wednesday, the Waco city attorney’s office asked the Texas attorney general for permission to withhold the records from Yahoo News and other media outlets that have made similar requests.
“The need to withhold the information pertaining to an open and pending case in order to deal with the detection, investigation, and/or prosecution of a crime is a compelling reason for nondisclosure,” wrote Judith Benton, assistant city attorney.
Veteran civil attorney Bill Aleshire of Austin, Texas, said Waco’s argument still doesn’t allow the city to circumvent rules on providing basic public information that have been in place nearly 40 years.
“That’s just bedrock open government law,” Aleshire said.
Waco did release 19 pages of documents to Yahoo News, including one mostly blank page. Other than a few dispatch call logs about the first shots fired, none of the pages pertain to the homicide reports sought by Yahoo News in the Twin Peaks deaths.
The other reports released to Yahoo News seem to be a random sampling — including arrest reports from some of the bikers who have complained that they were unfairly targeted and charged without cause.
Take for example the arrests of Drew King, James Harris and Juan Carlos Garcia, an engineer with Austin’s Public Works Department.
While it is unclear what has been redacted from the report, the narrative states that the arresting officer “noticed three males sitting in a grassy area located in the parking lot in front of Cabela’s all wearing motorcycle club vests.”
On another page, the officer writes in all caps, “All arrested subjects are self-admitted gang members of the Grim Guardian out of Slaughter Creek, Texas.”
King, Harris and Garcia were charged with engaging in organized crime. Like the 172 other bikers, their bail was initially set at $1 million. The three men were released last Friday after a judge agreed to reduce the amount to $25,000.
Other reports provided to Yahoo News deal with a drug arrest and an officer confiscating a biker’s flashlight that also featured a stun gun.
“I advised Mr. Diaz he would be able to get his taser back; however, it wouldn’t be today,” that officer writes.
Yahoo News asked Benton, the assistant city attorney, if the 19 pages were sent by mistake.
“You requested incident reports dealing with the shootings and homicides,” she said. “And that’s what you got.”
Benton said that no true homicide reports existed when the request was made on May 19. Waco, however, waited the maximum days allowed by law to answer the request and printed the unrelated reports Wednesday morning.
“At the time you made your request, that’s what we had,” Benton told Yahoo News.
While technically legal, Aleshire likened the date issue to a prank.
“That’s game-playing by public officials that need an attitude adjustment,” he said.
(This story has been updated since it originally published.)
Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).