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Profile: Jim Peeler

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Jim Peeler was a participant or observer in the following events:

BATF agents wait to assault the Branch Davidian compound.BATF agents wait to assault the Branch Davidian compound. [Source: LMPD Arcade]The Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), are warned of an impending raid on their compound outside Waco, Texas, by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF—see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). For several days, BATF agents have come into Waco from all over Texas; the day before the raid, BATF official Sharon Wheeler alerted news outlets in Dallas that “something big” was in the offing (see February 27, 1993). The morning of the raid, medical personnel alert Waco-area press and television personnel that the “feds” are preparing a large-scale exercise of some sort; some reporters and producers see evidence of the preparations for themselves. A large number of news reporters begin scouting the area for more information. Jim Peeler, a cameraman for Waco’s KWTX-TV, knows the Davidians are to be involved in the raid; he finds himself on a rural road near Mt. Carmel, the Davidian compound, where he encounters US mailman David Jones. Peeler asks directions from Jones, who, unbeknownst to Peeler, is Koresh’s brother-in-law and a Davidian affiliate. Peeler will later say that Jones seems to be doing some sort of reconnaissance when they stop their cars for their chat. Peeler tells Jones he is looking for Mt. Carmel, and they briefly discuss the “Sinful Messiah” series on Koresh that has been running in the Waco Tribune-Herald (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). Both hear the National Guard helicopters beginning their patrol. Jones asks Peeler: “Are there helicopters out here? Something’s gonna happen out here today. There’s too much traffic on the road.” Jones tells Peeler he is going home to watch television and see what is going on. Instead, he races to the compound and alerts Koresh; Jones will join the Davidians in the compound, and perish in the blaze that kills Koresh and others 51 days later (see April 19, 1993). [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Austin Chronicle, 6/23/2000] Seven years later, the media learns that Peeler had been alerted to the raid by local law enforcement official Cal Luedke (see June 23, 2000). Peeler will later admit to tipping off Jones, but will claim he knew nothing of Jones’s affiliation with Koresh or the Davidians. He will say that he is sent to drive down the road until he encounters a roadblock put up by the Texas Department of Public Safety, and film whatever may happen. He will say he gets lost trying to find the road leading to the compound. Lawyer Richard DeGuerin, who will represent Koresh in the following weeks, will give a different version of Peeler’s words to Jones. DeGuerin will say: “David Jones had been out to get a paper. On the way back he was driving his car and saw someone that looked lost. He saw a newsman. After being satisfied that David was a mailman, the newsman said, ‘Well, you better get out of here because there’s a National Guard helicopter over at [Texas State Technical Institute], and they’re going to have a big shootout with the religious nuts.’” Jones drives to Mt. Carmel and alerts Koresh and his father, Koresh’s top aide Perry Jones, to the impending raid. [Newsweek, 5/3/1993; Dallas Morning News, 8/28/1993; Time, 10/11/1993] Later allegations that the Davidians were tipped off by Peeler’s colleague, KWTX-TV reporter John McLemore, will be disproven. [Dallas Morning News, 8/28/1993] Lieutenant Gene Barber of the Waco Sheriff’s Department will later testify that local police believe another possible source of information for KWTX-TV was an “informant” at the local ambulance company. Barber will say that on several earlier occasions, when police had put the ambulance company on standby, a KWTX-TV camera crew was sent to the site of the police activity even though the police had not disclosed it to the station. A 1996 House investigation of the Davidian debacle (see August 2, 1996) will conclude that not only were the Davidians aware of the impending raid, but many of them quickly prepared to “ambush” the raiders. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After the raid, Virgil Teeter, the vice president of news for KWTX-TV, says he decided to send a camera crew to the Davidian compound only because of the “Sinful Messiah” articles on Saturday and Sunday morning. “We just thought it would be wise to be in the area,” he says. Teeter says no one from the station began videotaping until after the shooting started. “We didn’t go in before the agents,” he says. “We had no live coverage till long after the shooting started. There is no issue of criticizing us for our actions.” WFAA-TV in Dallas will broadcast some live footage from the raid and its aftermath, and that footage is broadcast nationally on CNN. [New York Times, 3/1/1993]

Entity Tags: Sharon Wheeler, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas National Guard, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Waco Tribune-Herald, Richard DeGuerin, Virgil Teeter, Perry Jones, Texas State Technical Institute, John McLemore, Cal Luedke, David Jones (Waco), Branch Davidians, KWTX-TV, David Koresh, Gene Barber, Jim Peeler

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Media investigations show that the February 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, that resulted in the deaths of four BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) agents and six Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) lost the element of surprise when a local sheriff’s department official tipped off the Davidians. The BATF has blamed television cameraman Jim Peeler of Waco’s KWTX-TV for alerting a local mailman, David Jones, to the upcoming raid. Jones, a relative of Davidian leader David Koresh, alerted Koresh to the imminent raid. However, Peeler was told of the raid by Cal Luedke, a longtime member of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office. Luedke was part of the BATF’s raid preparation and support team. Luedke denies the allegation, but a KWTX cameraman who filmed part of the raid, Dan Mulloney, says station officials learned of Luedke’s role from local reporter Tommy Witherspoon, who learned of the incident from Luedke himself. “Tommy told me it was Cal. No doubt about it,” Mulloney says. “I knew if Tommy said something was true, it was. I could trust him 100 percent. And he told me that Cal had told him the raid had been moved up to Sunday.” Witherspoon denies telling Mulloney the identity of his source, and says Mulloney learned of Luedke’s involvement from another source, whom Mulloney identifies as his girlfriend, who worked for the Waco ambulance company that was on alert the morning of the raid. State and federal authorities, including the BATF and the Texas Rangers, have confirmed Luedke’s involvement in alerting the Davidians, and say that Luedke has admitted to tipping off the Davidians to the raid. However, when asked by reporters in March about the story, he denied any involvement. He has also denied his involvement in a deposition given on behalf of a lawsuit filed by a group of current and former BATF agents against KWTX, a local newspaper, and the ambulance company, which charged that the three were responsible for tipping off the Davidians. The case was settled out of court. Peeler and Mulloney say their reputations have been irreparably damaged by years of accusations that they were partly responsible for the 10 deaths at the Davidian compound. [Austin Chronicle, 6/23/2000]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Tommy Witherspoon, McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), Dan Mulloney, Cal Luedke, Branch Davidians, David Jones (Waco), David Koresh, Jim Peeler, KWTX-TV, Texas Rangers

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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