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Authorities are lowering bail and releasing some of the 177 bikers arrested in connection with the deadly brawl at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, last month. One biker has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the police. As NPR's John Burnett reports, motorcycle clubs are outraged over what they claim is unfair treatment.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Matt Clendennen is 30 years old, a former firefighter, married with four kids and owner of a small landscaping business. He rides with a motorcycle club called the Scimitars in the town of Hewitt, just south of Waco. Clendennen has no criminal record, but he was swept up in the mass arrests that followed the deaths of nine bikers at Twin Peaks on May 17. He was released from jail around noon today. Speaking from the parking lot of the McLennan County jail, he says he believes the police targeted anyone on a motorcycle and most of the locked up riders, like himself, are innocent.
MATT CLENDENNEN: They rounded up every single person that just happened to be there and riding a motorcycle, and we all went. So, you know, we could've just been sitting inside, you know, having a hamburger and drinking water and ended up in jail for two-and-a-half weeks.
BURNETT: Late last week, Clendennen's lawyer filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming his client was unjustly arrested without probable cause. Bond was set at a million dollars for every biker arrested. Clendennen says a judge knocked it down to $100,000 for him, but on release day, he's more angry than happy.
CLENDENNEN: I think it's outrageous. I think it's entirely too much.
BURNETT: As of today, 25 bikers have bonded out with more to come. The district attorney's office, which declined an interview, seems increasingly willing to consider that not all of those arrested contributed to the violence. Husband and wife William and Morgan English, a former Marine and a bank teller, were released yesterday after their bonds were lowered to $25,000 apiece. Their attorney, Paul Looney, says they weren't even riding motorcycles.
PAUL LOONEY: They were walking up from about a half a block away where they parked their car when the gunshots started, and they dove to the ground and that's it. For that, they were arrested and held for more than two weeks.
BURNETT: Each of the Twin Peaks suspects was charged with engaging in organized criminal activity - a felony. Despite their strenuous protests, Waco police spokesman Sergeant Patrick Swanton says the authorities are not backing down.
SERGEANT PATRICK SWANTON: We still believe that the charges were right, and we stand behind those.
BURNETT: Bikers converged on Twin Peaks for a regularly scheduled Sunday meeting to drink beer and discuss legislation that affects their clubs. The hostilities reportedly broke out between two big, statewide gangs that have been feuding for years. The Cossacks wore a Texas patch called a rocker on their vests without approval from the dominant statewide group, the Bandidos. Waco police say the Cossacks, Bandidos and three other groups at Twin Peaks that day are criminal outlaw motorcycle gangs. And they point out that more than 300 weapons were recovered from the crime scene. However the fight started, the outcome has been disastrous for the image of motorcycle clubs, says longtime Waco biker Steve Dozer Cochran.
STEVE DOZER COCHRAN: There are thousands and thousands of bikers in the United States and Texas that have been vilified by the statements made by the Waco Police Department. I don't know how we overcome it.
BURNETT: The motorcycle community has called for riders to converge on Waco this Sunday for a mass, peaceful protest of their friends who remain behind bars. John Burnett, NPR News, Waco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.