Cou­ple’s lives caught in biker cross­fire

They say they did noth­ing wrong to de­serve charges

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Dane Schiller

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

$25,000.

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

Karen War­ren / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

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.

Karen War­ren / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

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.

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