Couple’s lives caught in biker crossfire
They say they did nothing wrong to deserve charges
As William and Morgan English headed from their Brenham home to the Twin Peaks in Waco for an ill-fated gathering of motorcycle riders, they drove a Nissan Sentra.
Fearing rain, the couple opted for the safety of four wheels over two.
They said they expected to have a few beers over a long lunch with friends and hear whether there was anything new from the Texas Legislature that would impact motorcycling.
They had traveled to such gatherings before, and there had never been a problem.
What unfolded next at Twin Peaks left nine people dead, 18 wounded and 177 arrested, including the Englishes, who were charged with engaging in organized criminal activity — accused of being gang members — and jailed on $1 million bail apiece.
They would spend 15 days behind bars before being released after posting bonds reduced to
As of late last week, 67 remained in jail.
The Englishes are adamant they did nothing wrong, and that they, like many of the others, have unjustly had their lives turned upside down, not only by what they have endured, but by what they face.
A charge carrying 15 years to life hangs over each of their heads.
“We want to make sure the story is told of what happened up there,” William English said.
On that Sunday afternoon, May 17, the Englishes said they parked their car and started walking toward the restaurant, but they never reached the front door.
They heard two or three pops from a handgun. Then a barrage from rifles.
The sounds were familiar to William English, a burly former Marine who served in Iraq.
‘What did we do wrong?’
He instinctively reached for the hefty machine gun he carried in combat, but he was unarmed. Then he grabbed his wife and pushed her into the restaurant’s brick wall near the outside patio. He shielded her with his body, then listened to determine which direction the gunfire was coming from.
Two officers — one in a blue uniform, the other in green — charged toward them with their rifles pointed. They ordered the Englishes and everyone around them to lie down face-first.
As they went to the ground, others fell from gunfire. There were dead. There were wounded. There was blood. There was screaming. Then things grew silent. Police zip-tied their hands behind their backs and they, along with dozens of others, were taken to jails.
Morgan English had never been charged with a crime. Her husband had a prior arrest for driving under the influence.
She said she was crying and yelling. “What did I do wrong? What did we do wrong?”
The Englishes, like all those arrested, are allegedly part of a conspiracy to commit murder or assault rooted in a fight between the Bandidos Motorcycle Club and the Cossacks Motorcycle Club, according to the charging document filed with a McLennan County justice of the peace.
The document does not specify who allegedly pulled a trigger, wielded a knife or threw a punch, but it contends weapons were used by brawlers on each other as well as to fire at police.
“Waco Police Officers returned fire, striking multiple gang members,” it states. Authorities still won’t say how many of the killed or wounded were shot by police. They say they are awaiting ballistics results to confirm who was slain by which gun.
The McLennan County District Attorney’s Office said it would not release any information nor respond to any questions from the news media.
William English, 33, was recently laid off from his factory welding job and says he is a member of the Distorted Motorcycle Club, a fledgling group with seven members.
His wife is 31 and a bank teller who supports his club. She wore a vest with red roses and a skull on the back when they went to Waco.
The Englishes, as well as various defense lawyers, say most of those arrested aren’t hardened criminals.
Galveston lawyer Susan Criss said that among clients who had been jailed in Waco is a man who rode with the “Bikers Against Child Abuse” club and nearly lost his job with the city of Killeen over his arrest. Another retired in the fall as a military police officer, she said, and expected to soon start work on his master’s degree in emergency management.
She said the arrests have created a massive backlog in Waco, and it is wreaking havoc on lives. She and others say people have lost jobs, been unable to pay bills and risk being evicted, as well as threatened with child custody fights, as a result of their arrests.
“You pick any person who was leading a good life and you throw them in jail for two or three weeks and there all kinds of consequences,” said Criss, a former judge.
Police reaction questioned
She said it would have been reasonable for police to detain people at the scene, to sort out who everyone was, but throwing them in jail was wrong.
Houston-based lawyer Paul Looney, who is representing the Englishes, said Waco police could have diffused the violence before it ever happened by parking a few cars in front of the restaurant. Instead, he said, they behaved like an army waiting to strike. He said eyewitnesses he has interviewed told him of
“I don’t know the specifics of each case, and it is certainly possible that the net was cast quite broadly, and that ultimately charges may be dropped, reduced, or individuals will be acquitted.” Geoffrey Corn, an instructor at Houston’s South Texas College of Law
snipers positioned in military garb.
“Nobody even knew they (police) were there until they started firing shots,” he said.
Waco police said they acted to save lives, not take them, and to protect citizens.
151 guns recovered at scene
“This isn’t your church-going crowd that came out to have dinner with the family,” Waco Sgt. Patrick Swanton said in the wake of the shooting. Police said officers collected 151 guns, including 12 rifles, as well as knives, chains, clubs, stun guns and a tomahawk, from the scene, which included the restaurant, parking lot and vehicles.
Waco police issued a statement Friday with new details, including that three officers fired a total of 12 times with .223-caliber rifles.
Sixteen uniformed officers were in the vicinity of the restaurant, the statement said, and all of them were in cars, none in sniper positions, when the shooting started.
Geoffrey Corn, an instructor at Houston’s South Texas College of Law, said a magistrate must at least review the charge against a person within 48 hours of his or her arrest, so that leads him to believe there is some substance to the accusations against the bikers.
“I don’t know the specifics of each case, and it is certainly possible that the net was cast quite broadly, and that ultimately charges may be dropped, reduced, or individuals will be acquitted,” he said. But, Corn said, none of those outcomes would be proof authorities were wrong to have made the arrests.
“Considering what we have learned to date, that it was a large gathering of bikers who were expected to be armed and potentially planning for some violence, it is difficult for me to armchair these tactics and say that the response was excessive,” he said.
Shaken by jail time
Looney, however, thinks that will be the judgment.
“When all this sorts out,” he said, “I’ll be surprised if seven people did a damn thing.”
Looney said he expects matters will work out for the Englishes as soon as all the facts are known. The couple is still shaken by what happened.
Morgan English described the indignity of strip searches, buginfested food and tough times blending in on the cell block at the McLennan County Jail. She was one of only a handful of women at Twin Peaks, she said, so she was quickly nicknamed Biker Girl by the other inmates. Her eyes burned for days as she had no contact lens solution and no glasses with her. When she was released and explained what happened to her employer, she was given her job back.
William English said he was kept in a cell with other bikers — and they all pulled together.
When he was being booked, jail guards took away the gold Marine Corps ring he first put on when he graduated boot camp in 2000. “I had never taken it off my finger,” he said.
English said his time in jail cost him a severance package from his last employer, where he worked for nine years after leaving the Marines, as it required him to report in each morning in case there was work for him. After missing three days, he was dropped.
The couple’s cell phones, along with their Nissan, remain in police custody. And English has not been able to find work.
“I won’t say it is directly because of this,” he said, “but it is not making it any easier.” [email protected] twitter.com/daneschiller
William and Morgan English say they spent 15 days in jail after shootout at Twin Peaks in Waco, but say they were just there hanging out with friends.
William and Morgan English each face 15 years to life in jail if convicted of engaging in organized criminal activity. Both maintain they did nothing wrong at time of shootout.