(CNN) — Even before the melee that left nine dead began, police were already in place, expecting a ruckus. What they saw was far more brutal than what they had anticipated.
Rival biker gangs unleashed a hailstorm of bullets outside a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, leaving nine people dead and at least 17 hospitalized.
“In my nearly 35 years of law enforcement experience, this is the most violent and gruesome scene that I have dealt with,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.
By Monday morning, almost 200 people were in the McLellan County Jail facing charges of engaging in organized crime in connection with the shootout, Swanton said. Following his news conference, Swanton told CNN that his initial estimate of 192 arrests may have been too high and the actual number is “in the 170s.”
Prosecutors and investigators could elect to level other charges, including capital murder, he said, but the organized crime charge is “pretty serious.”
“It doesn’t get much more significant than that,” he said.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has shut down the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco for the next week, but it’s not a punitive closing, Swanton said. Rather, it’s being shut down because there’s “enough of a reason to believe that more violence would occur there, had they been allowed to remain open for the next seven-day period,” he said.
It happened in broad daylight — around noon Sunday, at the restaurant known for scantily clad servers and “bike nights.”
The fracas apparently started inside the restaurant’s bathroom with something as simple as a shove or a disrespectful glance, authorities told CNN affiliate KTVT.
That brawl quickly escalated into a fistfight, which led to a knife fight, KTVT said. The brouhaha spilled into the parking lot, where the gunfire erupted, Swanton said.
Bullets flew toward police, who returned fire. No officers were wounded, and all of the dead and injured are believed to be bikers, Swanton said. He declined to identify the biker gangs involved. By the time the scene cleared, CNN affiliate KWTX said, authorities had recovered more than 100 weapons.
‘We had expected issues’
Swanton said five rival gangs showed up at the restaurant Sunday.
“As they were here, we had officers on scene,” he said. “We expected issues.”
Earlier this month, McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna told KWTX-TV that local police were on heightened alert for possible trouble on Thursday nights, when Twin Peaks hosts bike nights. Reyna said trouble between two local motorcycle gangs heated up when bikers from the Dallas-Fort Worth area got involved.
Swanton slammed Twin Peaks after the bloodshed Sunday, saying the franchise failed to help avoid trouble and ignored the police department’s advice to try to keep biker gangs away from the restaurant.
“Are we frustrated? Sure, because we feel like there may have been more that could have been done by a business to prevent this,” Swanton said.
He said Twin Peaks has a right to deny entry to known biker gangs.
“They absolutely have a right to refuse service to people that may be a harm to their patrons and employees,” he told KTVT. “They didn’t do that, and today is the ultimate aftermath of what their decision was.”
Jay Patel, operating partner at the Waco Twin Peaks, said the franchise is cooperating with police.
“We are horrified by the criminal, violent acts that occurred outside of our Waco restaurant today,” Patel said Sunday night on Facebook. “We share in the community’s trauma.”
Twin Peaks’ corporate management released a statement saying it was reviewing the circumstances of the shooting.
“We are thankful no employees, guests or police were injured in this senseless violence outside the restaurant, and our sympathies are with the families of those killed,” the statement said.
Warning to biker gangs
Even after the chaos subsided, Waco police continued arresting people arriving at the scene with weapons.
Swanton warned other biker gang members against coming to Waco to reignite the violence.
“We have been getting reports throughout the day that bikers from out of state are headed this way,” he told KTVT.
“We would encourage them not to, because we have plenty of space in our county jail to put them there.”