As a beat officer in north Fort Worth in the late 1970s, retired police Sgt. Bill Beall recalls efforts to keep Bandido gang members in line.
“We had a rule back then that they couldn’t fly their colors in the city of Fort Worth,” said Beall, who would supervise the department’s gang unit for five years before retiring in 2007.
Members were warned that if they violated the unwritten rule, officers would find a reason to stop them.
“They would stop at the city limits and turn their jackets inside out or put them in their bags,” Beall said.
For years, the Bandidos — the most notorious motorcycle gang in Texas and considered by many the most dangerous — worked hard to stay under the radar of law enforcement while maintaining their alpha male position among other biker gangs.
“They ran dope. They ran prostitution. A lot of their ‘old ladies’ worked at strip clubs,” Beall said. “… Things were stable then because I think the Bandidos were formally in charge and nobody was challenging them.
“Now it’s like a gang war starting up.”
On Sunday, a midday state Confederation of Clubs meeting among the Bandidos and several other Texas motorcycle gangs at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco erupted in a shootout and a brawl, leaving nine bikers dead, 18 injured and 170 jailed.
Two of those killed had ties to Tarrant County. Matthew Mark Smith, 27, had lived in Keller and North Richland Hills and Wayne Lee Campbell, 43, of Rowlett had lived in Fort Worth and Arlington.
The Waco incident has left statewide law enforcement on high alert and some wondering whether more violence is in store.
“Once this type of stuff gets started at this level of violence, it’s almost like a declaration of war,” said John Gregory Gullion, a Texas Wesleyan University associate professor who teaches a class on gangsters. “I think it’s going to continue to escalate. It’s just not going to go away.”
‘About making money’
In Fort Worth, about 10 outlaw motorcycle gangs and support clubs are believed to be active, according to Tracey Knight, a police spokeswoman. The department declined to name the gangs and support clubs.
They tend to be older than typical street gang members, experts say, and far more loyal.
“Loyalty has kind of gone out the window with” street gangs, Gullion said. “They’ll turn state’s evidence and turn the rest of their guys in a heartbeat.”
But biker gangs, also known as motorcycle clubs, or MCs, have written constitutions and a strong commitment to the banner they fly, Gullion said.
Though their numbers are smaller than street gangs and prison gangs, gang intelligence officers say they have seen an increase in the past year in the number of crimes they’re committing, Knight said.
Most, Knight said, involve drugs, prostitution and assaults.
Knight said much of the motorcycle gang violence goes undetected because it is never reported.
“They handle most rival and internal violence within the gang culture or underground,” Knight said.
Kevin Rousseau, who supervised the Tarrant County district attorney’s gang unit for a dozen years until recently, said the prosecution of motorcycle gang members has been rare.
“Bottom line, these guys prefer not to get caught,” Rousseau said. “They prefer to fly under the radar. They’re really about making money. When we catch them, it’s typically in a situation like this — where disputes have boiled over in a public way. It’s rare and few and far between.”
A December shooting at the Gators Jam Inn on Race Street was one of those times.
Court documents say Bandido members stormed into the bar off East Belknap Street, where Ghost Rider and Wino’s Crew members were hanging out, and attacked patrons.
Geoff Brady, a Ghost Rider member, was shot in the head and died at the scene. Two others were wounded.
Three Bandido members — Howard Wayne Baker, Nicholas Povendo and Robert Stover — have been charged with murder and are free on bail.
Days before the shooting, tempers flared at the Wise County Toy Run when members of the Cossacks MC allegedly jumped a Lost Rider member at the event.
Experts say the gangs have worked to improve their image, often participating with other motorcycle clubs and bike enthusiasts at charitable events like toy runs.
Wise County Sheriff David Walker said no arrests were made in the toy run assault because the victim did not wish to prosecute.
But the fight, as well as the violence in Waco, has Walker reconsidering law enforcement’s role in such events. He said deputies and local police had always provided traffic assistance — not security — at the toy run.
“Before … the next toy run, we’ll visit with promoters and see what the game plan is,” Walker said. “We’re not in the position to tell someone they can or cannot host a toy run. We are in the position, if they host it, to be prepared for whatever the case may be.”
Motorcycle stunt rider Ed Beckley, one of the toy run’s promoters, said the event — entering its 16th year — will go on, though organizers are keeping watch on other events across the state to see whether changes are needed.
“We’re not going to jump to conclusions and make knee-jerk reactions,” Beckley said. “Whatever reaction we do or whatever planning we’re going to do is in the protection of the event and the riders that are there and to keep the whole air about this thing for the kids.”
Experts say such tensions have been brewing for some time as motorcycle gangs have grown tired of the Bandidos’ monopoly in the state.
“Where you have one gang, there’s always going to be another gang that wants to rise to the top,” Gullion said.
Recently, some MCs, like the Cossacks, have built alliances with other clubs.
“A few of the independent groups have gotten together to try to go against the power of the Bandidos,” Gullion said.
The Cossacks had also reportedly begun wearing patches affiliating themselves with Texas without paying dues to the Bandidos, according to a YouTube video posted Monday by a Cossack associate.
“They can buy their way in, but they weren’t paying homage and recognizing the Bandidos,” Beall said. “It caused conflict. Just like back in the ’20s and ’30s, if a Detroit gang tried to move into Chicago, it caused conflict.”
‘We’re not criminals’
Some of the violence associated with North Texas biker gangs has been highly publicized.
On Aug. 27, 1978, Fort Worth Bandidos leader Johnny Ray Lightsey was shot six times and blown off his Harley-Davidson at West Lancaster Avenue and South Henderson Street, dying a short time later at a hospital.
His death came one week after a feature profile was published about Lightsey in the Star-Telegram. He discussed being shot twice before and being arrested — but not convicted — in several rape cases, and he insisted that “we’re just a motorcycle club, man. We’re not criminals.”
The night of Lightsey’s slaying, two members of the rival Banshees were shot — one fatally — on Interstate 45 in Southeast Texas. Police investigated whether the shootings were the start of a gang war, but any connection was eventually ruled out.
Lightsey’s parents, however, blamed his slaying on Fort Worth police, telling the Star-Telegram at the time that officers had harassed Lightsey for years and that an assistant district attorney had threatened his life.
“They told him lots of times they were going to blow his head off,” Betty Lightsey told the newspaper in an article published days after the killing.
Fort Worth police officials called her assertions “ridiculous.” Still, the claims led to a Tarrant County grand jury inquiry, which exonerated police and the district attorney’s office.
A 22-year-old ex-member of the Ghost Riders was later charged with murder but was not indicted by a Tarrant County grand jury, court records show.
Beall said outlaw motorcycle gangs like the Bandidos are just as dangerous as the Crips and Bloods and far better organized.
“To me, those are all domestic terrorists,” he said. “They’re more dangerous to us than foreign terrorists because they’re operating in our back yard and they have been for generations.”
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655