TABC Seeks to Withhold Texas Open Records Request from RER Correspondent
On May 17, the community of Waco, TX witnessed one of the worst shootouts since the Branch Davidians massacre in 1993. Authorities have advanced a narrative of rival motorcycle gangs battling over turf and exploding into violence that left nine people dead and 18 injured until a massive police presence intervenes, arrests 177 bikers, and restores order to a chaotic situation.
However, reports from witnesses reveal a different version of events. While some eyewitness accounts described an initial altercation between bikers and several pistol shots, it was the intense volley of rifle fire from police that may have killed and wounded many innocent bystanders that stunned and terrified motorcyclists, restaurant patrons, and pedestrians alike.
So which is it? Was the Waco shooting a proper and justified response from law enforcement or was it a “Kent State” reaction to a tense situation wherein a single violent incident unleashed an undisciplined vicious reaction by law enforcement that resulted in additional needless deaths and injuries? As they say on the television show CSI, “follow the evidence.”
RagingElephantsRadio (RER) has been at the forefront of this story since it broke in the national and Texas news media. RER broadcast activists have commented on published news reports, conducted interviews, and sought to discover the truth behind the events in Waco. However, the truth has been hard to root out from those officially conducting the investigation. Law enforcement has refused to release many of the facts and evidence they have in their possession. A gag order was imposed by the preliminary judge and surveillance tapes have been withheld. At seemingly every turn, the public has been denied visibility into the events that cost nine people their lives, that wounded 18 others and painted 177 people as violent criminals via “cookie cutter” arrest warrants and outrageous bail amounts. With the truth buried, RER special correspondent Mary Huls decided to dig deeper into this tragedy.
Acting on a tip that an agent from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) was on the grounds of the Twin Peaks establishment at the time of the May 17 shootings, Ms. Huls filed a Texas Open Records Request to obtain the TABC reports and photos from their investigation. Ms. Huls had learned that the TABC agent was on-site to investigate an earlier complaint from the Don Carlos Restaurant across the street and, after the shooting, had taken pictures of the dead bodies before they were covered and spirited away, as well as other crime scene photos. Those photos were purported to show gruesome headshots for six of the victims thereby giving credence to the stories that at least two thirds of the victims may have been killed by police rifles.
Last week, Ms. Huls received a copy of a letter from the TABC to Texas Attorney Ken Paxton seeking to deny the public information request [ID# 584707]. The TABC based their appeal to withhold information on two state statutes. The first was to withhold the application records of Peaktasic Beverages – Waco as private/confidential under Government Code §552.101. This statute excerpts information from disclosure “if it is information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision.” Section 5.48(b) of the Alcoholic Beverage (AB) Code states that “the private records of a permittee, licensee, or other person that are required or obtained by the commission or its agents in connection with an investigation or otherwise, are privileged unless introduced in evidence in a hearing before the commission or before a court in this state or the United States.” Since the application records do not seem to have been entered into evidence before the commission or a court this denial of information seems sound.
However, the TABC also wants to deny the responsive investigation records generated on May 17 from public disclosure under §552.108 of the Government Code which states “information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of a crime is excepted if: (1) release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of a crime; or (2) it is information that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of a crime only in relation to an investigation that did not result in conviction or deferred adjudication.”
The TABC is claiming in this letter to the Texas Attorney General that they were part of a joint investigation conducted by agents of the TABC and the Waco Police Department at the Twin Peaks location. Why would the TABC and the Waco Police Department be conducting a “joint” investigation? While TABC enforcement agents claim “all the powers of a peace officer coextensive with the boundaries of the state” and “routinely investigates criminal matters, where alcohol has been determined to be a factor,” what alcohol-related crime were they investigating? Why were they on-scene when the shooting happened rather than after the fact? These question deserve to be answered.
Indeed, it is with this second appeal to shield TABC investigative records from disclosure to the public that RER has objection. The TABC has cited the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office, which is currently handling the case, as confirming that the release of records held by the TABC would interfere with the criminal investigation and prosecution being conducted by their office. If these records are nothing more than crime scene photos taken by the TABC, how could these records affect the investigation or the subsequent prosecutions? The defense attorneys already have those. The judge’s gag order has already been lifted. The autopsy reports have been made public. It is already known that none of the victims had any gunshot residue on their persons. That six of the victims were shot in the head or neck area. That eight of the nine victims had downward bullet paths in their bodies. What could the TABC have in their possession that could possibly influence or jeopardize the criminal investigation and subsequent prosecutions?
Well, the answers to these questions cannot be known if Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton grants the request to not disclose the TABC investigation records from the May 17th shootings. It will be interesting to see if transparency wins out over the “close to the vest” investigation Waco law enforcement and the District Attorney seem to be running. While the crime scene is incredibly large, the fundamentals of the shooting appear to be pretty straight forward. Three and a half months after the fact, with modern forensic techniques, who shot whom (cops or bikers) should be known. The caliber and type of ammunition that struck the victims should be known. With three policemen firing their weapons and expending only 12 rounds, it should be pretty easy for the police to ascertain their role in the deadly shooting. With police across America losing the trust of their communities, being targeted by radicals and as the death toll mounts, it is incumbent upon law enforcement including the TABC to expose the truth no matter the consequence.
By Dale Huls