FORT WORTH, Texas — A gag order in a criminal case arising from a shootout at a biker gathering in Waco is unconstitutional, overly broad and should be lifted, attorneys for 16 media organizations argued in a brief filed Friday with a Texas appeals court.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 15 other organizations, including The Associated Press, filed the "friend of the court" brief in support of a motion by an attorney for one of 177 people arrested after the shooting.
Nine people were killed and 18 injured in the May 17 shootout that authorities say arose from an apparent confrontation between two motorcycle clubs.
The gag order was issued in the criminal case of Matthew Clendennen, the only arrested biker who has filed a lawsuit against local authorities alleging he was arrested without probable cause. All 177 people arrested initially were held on a $1 million bond on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity. Only three remain in jail and there have been no indictments.
The gag order prevents those involved in Clendennen's criminal case from discussing it with the media.
But the Reporters Committee brief says the order "does not make clear whether the speech restrictions apply to any discussion of the underlying incident generally, including the other pending criminal cases," or to Clendennen's civil lawsuit.
The order was written by McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, who is among officials named in Clendennen's suit, and issued by Reyna's former law partner, District Judge Matt Johnson. The judge also has issued a protective order preventing public release of a surveillance video of the scene.
In granting the gag order, Johnson said he was acting to prevent pretrial publicity from influencing potential jurors.
The brief argues the court lacked specific findings to support its conclusion that publicity could taint the juror pool.