More than half of the 175 bikers arrested in May's Waco Twin Peaks shootout have been released from McLennan County Jail, and based on a stack of complaints to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, many feel they've been freed from a Soviet bloc gulag built on filthy bedding and moldy baloney.
The complaints, filed online, triggered a surprise inspection, and the Commission's executive director told the Waco Tribune that “We did not find any violations of minimum jail standards."
Houston attorney Paul Looney told the Trib that his two clients, released June 1, felt they'd been "degraded and dehumanized repeatedly without any provocation."
So what exactly are these substandard conditions?
The Houston Press has obtained copies of complaints submitted to the Commission, mostly by friends and relatives of the bikers, that range from serious (lack of medical care) to silly ("toxic tasting" food) to vague ("nasty cells"). Many are just general complaints of how Waco police (mis)handled the May 17 arrests, a la "I thought Texas was part of the USA, not the USSR." If one didn't know any better, one might assume that these "outlaw" bikers accused of engaging in organized criminal activity are among the most delicate desperados in recent memory.
One woman complained that an inmate told her his lunch consisted only of "4 pieces of white bread, 1 slice of cheese, 1 orange, and bologna that was rotten. Water was provided via the sink...the guard threw the bag of food at him."
The bulk of the more serious complaints appear copied and pasted, or filed by third parties with no direct knowledge — "I am hearing that some inmates are not receiving appropriate medical care"; "Some inmates still have bullets in their bodies while receiving no medical treatment." Only one of the complaints we obtained — the one that includes the complaint about the "4 pieces of white bread" — appears to be based on information provided directly by an inmate.
That complaint alleges that the inmate — Rich — had trouble breathing and was ignored by the guards. The complaint is heavily redacted, so it is difficult to ascertain why this inmate had breathing problems. On May 18, "Rich stated he was still refused medical attention numerous times and felt like he was going to have an episode that would kill him. He stated he has asked for medical assistance numerous times throughout the day and evening for help because he could not [breathe] right."
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According to the woman who filed the complaint, she delivered Rich's meds to the jail on May 19 but was told by a nurse that it could take 24 hours to approve the meds. She then wrote that a guard told her "that the meds I brought could not be used to help him, that their jail has their own [p]harmacy and would get him his medication as soon as it is processed." (She also wrote that an inmate with the "road name" of Bubba Earl had been denied epilepsy medication).
The woman also alleged that many of the men were suffering anxiety over how their arrests and detention disrupted their work and home lives: "A lot of these people are facing uncertain times and [losing] their jobs and family structure because of this incident, and are experiencing anxiety to high levels that are being ignored."
She also alleged that inmate Rich told her that conditions were unsanitary — that inmates were "left to wear their dirty orange jumpers this whole time. No showers, just a wash cloth and small towel." (We're guessing the McLennan County Jail also suffers from an appalling lack of Jacuzzis and bedets).
While a lot of the complaints seem frivolous, they do suggest that county jails are perhaps ill-equipped for the sudden influx of nearly 200 inmates whose astronomical bonds all but guarantee a permanent stay. It's almost as if the simultaneous arrest of 175 people on a single pro-forma charge is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.