HEWITT, Texas (AP) — A Texas motorcyclist arrested with 176 others after a melee at a restaurant that left nine dead said Monday he had nothing to do with the violence and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit to address “carelessness from the justice system” that has tarnished his reputation.
Matthew Clendennen told The Associated Press that while filing the suit may draw unwise publicity while he is facing charges of engaging in organized criminal activity, there “needs to be accountability. Law enforcement, the district attorney, they need to answer to this.”
The suit names as defendants the city of Waco, McLennan County, District Attorney Abel Reyna and Waco police officer Manuel Chavez, who drafted the warrant for Clendennen’s arrest. Reyna declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Clendennen’s attorney, Clint Broden, said the “fill-in-the-name warrant lacked probable cause.”
The 30-year-old former firefighter said his image has been “dragged through the mud,” jeopardizing his landscape lighting business and affecting a custody battle over two of his children.
“I’ve spent a long time building a reputation, and to see how easily such carelessness from the justice system can ruin something, it’s been overwhelming,” he said at a news conference.
Clendennen said he was sitting on the patio of Twin Peaks, the Waco restaurant where a motorcyclist meeting was to take place last month, when he heard a large group of bikes roll into the parking lot. An argument began, and minutes later, Clendennen said, he heard the first shot.
Without looking to see who fired, Clendennen said, he took cover in a hallway inside the restaurant and had nothing to do with the violence that ensued. While inside, he heard “constant fire,” he said.
The shooting began after an apparent confrontation between the Bandidos, the predominant motorcycle club in Texas, and the Cossacks, according to investigators. Hundreds of weapons — including 151 firearms — were recovered.
Those arrested were held on a $1 million bond on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity, and more than 50 are still being held. Clendennen was released from jail after two weeks when his bond was reduced to $100,000.
Clendennen said the Scimitars motorcycle club, of which he is a part, is “a group of hard-working men who enjoy motorcycles and giving back to the public.”
At Twin Peaks, the police escorted Clendennen past the scene of the shootout, where he saw several bodies, including the body of a friend, Daniel Boyett, a member of the Cossacks motorcycle club. A preliminary autopsy report said Boyett died of gunshot wounds to the head.
“It was completely surreal,” he said.
Witnesses have said they thought they heard automatic weapons during the shooting. Investigators haven’t said who fired the fatal shots.
Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman said last week that city officers had disabled the automatic setting on their rifles, and that most of the dozens of shell casings found at the scene were from suspects’ guns.
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