About 170 members of rival motorcycle gangs have been charged with engaging in organised crime following a shootout at a Texas restaurant in which nine people were killed and 18 others injured.
The crowd of suspects was so large that authorities opened a convention centre to hold them all before they were arrested, police said.
Sunday’s melee at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco drew a broad police response which included placing officers on top of buildings and highway overpasses to watch for other bikers rushing to the scene to retaliate.
Waco Police Sergeant W Patrick Swanton said authorities had received threats from biker groups against law enforcement “throughout the night” after the shooting and that authorities stood ready to confront any more violence. He told The Dallas Morning News the threat of retaliation remained high.
McLennan County Justice of the Peace WH Peterson set bond at 1 million US dollars (£637,000) for each suspect. He defended the high amount, citing the violence that quickly unfolded in a shopping market busy with a lunchtime crowd.
“We have nine people dead, because these people wanted to come down and what? Drink? Party?” he said. “I thought it was appropriate.”
Mr Peterson also performed inquests on the nine dead bikers but declined to identify them pending notification of family. He said all nine were from Texas.
Police 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.
Sgt Swanton said the Waco Convention Centre was used to hold the suspects temporarily as police rushed to secure many parts of the city amid reports of rival bikers going elsewhere to continue the fight. Those at the convention centre were later taken to jail.
Sgt Swanton said it was too early to determine how many motorcycle gang members will face murder charges.
Five gangs had gathered at the restaurant as part of a meeting to settle differences over turf and recruitment. Prior meetings had been held at the restaurant, and managers there had dismissed police concerns over the gatherings, he said.
“They were not here to drink and eat barbecue,” he said. “They came here with violence in mind.”
Twin Peaks – a national chain which features waitresses in revealing uniforms - yesterday revoked the franchise rights to the restaurant, which opened in August.
Company spokesman Rick Van Warner said in a statement that the management team chose to ignore warnings and advice from the company, and did not establish the “high security standards” that the firm requires.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission yesterday issued a seven-day suspension of the restaurant’s liquor licence, but owners had the option of reopening to serve meals.
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, Sgt Swanton said.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara, whose office is involved in the investigation, said the nine dead were members of the Bandidos and Cossacks gangs. However, Sgt Swanton has repeatedly declined to identify which gangs were involved in a fight that began with punches then grew to include chains, knives and then guns.
“I am not about to give them the respect of mentioning their names,” he said.
Many men detained in the hours after the shooting were seen wearing leather vests that read Bandidos or Cossacks.
More than 100 motorcycles were in the car parks around the restaurant yesterday, along with an additional 50 to 75 vehicles that probably belong to gang members, Sgt Swanton said. Authorities were having them towed from the scene, 95 miles (153km) south of Dallas.
In a 2014 gang-threat assessment, the Texas Department of Public Safety classified the Bandidos as a “Tier 2” threat, the second highest. Other groups in that tier included the Bloods, Crips and Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.
The Bandidos, formed in the 1960s, are involved in trafficking cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, according to the US Department of Justice.
The Texas assessment does not mention the Cossacks.
In a bulletin issued on May 1, the Texas Joint Information Centre run by the DPS warned of increasing violence between the Bandidos and Cossacks.
Dallas TV station WFAA obtained the bulletin and reported that it said the conflict could stem from Cossacks refusing to pay dues to the Bandidos for operating in Texas and for wearing a Texas patch on their vests without the Bandidos’ approval.
DPS spokesman Tom Vinger declined to comment on the authenticity of the bulletin, citing agency policy.