Appeals court reverses Waco judge's gag order in biker case

AP News
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Posted: Aug 07, 2015 6:54 PM
Appeals court reverses Waco judge's gag order in biker case

WACO, Texas (AP) — A Texas appeals court reversed a gag order Friday in a criminal case arising from a shootout at a biker gathering in Waco that left nine dead and 18 injured.

The Waco-based 10th Texas Court of Appeals said the court that issued the order "abused its discretion" in the case of Matthew Clendennen, the only arrested biker who has filed a lawsuit against local authorities alleging that he was arrested without probable cause.

"I feel vindicated," said Clendennen's attorney, Clint Broden. "I said all along that it was unconstitutional, and the court apparently agreed with me."

Authorities say the May 17 shootout outside the Twin Peaks restaurant stemmed from an apparent confrontation between the Cossacks and Bandidos, both classified as gangs by the Texas Department of Public Safety. It remains unclear who fired the bullets that struck the nine who died; the results of autopsies and ballistic analyses have not been made public.

All 177 people arrested initially were held on a $1 million bond each on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity. Only two remain in jail and there have been no indictments.

The order prevented those involved in Clendennen's criminal case from discussing it with the media. It was written by McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, who is among the officials named in Clendennen's suit, and was issued by Reyna's former law partner, District Judge Matt Johnson.

In granting the gag order, Johnson said he was acting to prevent pretrial publicity from influencing potential jurors.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 15 other organizations, including The Associated Press, filed a "friend of the court" brief in support of a motion by Broden to reverse the gag order. The brief argued that the court lacked specific findings to support its conclusion that publicity could taint the juror pool.

The appeals court gave Johnson seven days to vacate the order, after which the court would vacate it.