CBSN

Deadly Waco shootout may have started with parking dispute, police say

WACO, Texas - A deadly weekend shootout involving rival motorcycle gangs apparently began with a parking dispute and someone running over a gang member's foot, police said Tuesday.

Police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said an uninvited group appeared for the meeting of a loose confederation of biker gangs held Sunday at a restaurant.

One man was injured when a vehicle rolled over his foot. That caused a dispute that continued inside the restaurant, where fighting and then shooting began, before the melee spilled back outside, Swanton said.

When the shootout was over, nine people were dead and 18 wounded.

About 50 weapons were confiscated, mostly knives and firearms, and Swanton said more than 100 weapons may be found once authorities are done analyzing the crime scene at the Twin Peaks restaurant.

Preliminary autopsy results showed all nine of the dead were killed by gunshots. Most of the men were in their 40s, but they ranged in age from 27 to 65, according to reports released by a McLennan County justice of the peace.

Of the injured, seven remain hospitalized. Swanton described their conditions as stable.

He said the investigation is being hampered by witnesses who "are not being honest with us."

Police are concerned that the brawl will invite retaliation and more violence, Swanton said.

While Swanton has refused to name the gangs involved directly, saying he doesn't want to give them the "respect," other officials have said the primary combatants, including all of the dead, where from the Bandidos and Cossacks motorcycle gangs.

Retired ATF agent William Queen, who wrote a book about going undercover with a biker gang called "Under and Alone," told CBSN's Jeff Glor that the dispute between two of the gangs -- the much-smaller Cossacks, which has ties to the Hell's Angels, and the Bandidos, currently one of the largest biker gangs in the world -- was like "David and Goliath."

"The Cossacks were getting tired of being pushed around and pretty much 'called it' on the Banditos. There wasn't violence that was going on, but it was kind of building up," Queen explained. "And they were there to kind of talk about this thing at that coalition meeting, and it led from a parking space dispute to [a] full-fledged gun battle."

Though the Cossacks have been in Texas since 1969, they didn't claim Texas as their territory on the patch known as a "bottom rocker" until last year, according to Peter Edwards, a Toronto star reporter and author of "The Bandido Massacre: A Story of Bikers, Brotherhood and Betrayal," a book about the 2006 slaying of eight Canadian members of the Bandidos.

"For them [Cossacks] to do something like this, to know how much it would enrage the Bandidos, it's really provocative," said Edwards, who has researched and written extensively on the Bandidos and biker culture. "They'd have to know they'd get a strong response."

The patch is the bottom of three worn on the backs of those in motorcycle clubs, and it's taken very seriously in biker culture, according to Edwards. Stronger motorcycle clubs sometimes threaten to take the "bottom rocker" patch off the backs of weaker clubs as a sign of humiliation.

The move to wear the "bottom rocker" by the Cossacks is not entirely unexpected, however, he said - though the Bandidos are a much larger club nationally and internationally, the two clubs are on more even footing in Texas. "That was [the Cossacks] saying, we're not going to be taking direction from you - we're going to be standing on our own two feet," Edwards said.

The Cossacks have about 200 members in the state and the Bandidos have 150 to 175, he said. The Bandidos, however, have stronger grassroots support with more smaller clubs who claim allegiance to them, according to Edwards.

In Texas, Edwards said the Cossacks have only one smaller club who claim allegiance - the Scimitars, another group involved in the shootout.

The May 1 law enforcement bulletin said the FBI had received information that Bandidos had discussed "going to war with Cossacks." It also outlined several recent incidents between the two groups.

The Confederacy of Clubs, a network of motorcycle clubs, had a scheduled regional meeting at the restaurant for Sunday, according to their website.

Swanton said that the coalition of clubs had reserved an outdoor bar area for the meeting, and that another group that wasn't invited, which Swanton declined to identify, showed up anyway.

"When those individuals showed up, there was a disturbance in the parking lot," Swanton said.

On Monday, about 170 gang members were charged with engaging in organized crime. McLennan County Justice of the Peace W.H. Peterson set bond at $1 million for each suspect.

He defended the high amount, citing the violence that quickly unfolded in a shopping market busy with a lunchtime crowd.

Police and the restaurant operators were aware of Sunday's meeting in advance, and 18 Waco officers in addition to state troopers were outside the restaurant when the fight began, Swanton said. Police have acknowledged firing on armed bikers, but it was unclear how many of the dead were shot by gang members and how many were shot by officers.

Swanton said Monday that authorities stood ready to confront any more violence after receiving threats from biker groups against law enforcement.

"We have a contingency plan to deal with those individuals if they try to cause trouble here," Swanton said.