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Profile: McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas )

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McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ) was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Austin, Texas, office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated to ATF) receives a call from Chief Deputy Daniel Weyenberg of the McLennan County, Texas, Sheriff’s Department. Weyerberg tells BATF agents of information he has received from a local UPS employee, who told him that he’d delivered a package to Mt. Carmel, the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas (see November 3, 1987 and After). The UPS employee said that the package had broken open and he could see firearms, inert grenade casings, and black powder inside. Local law enforcement agencies have been investigating the possibility of the Davidians’ creating a large and possibly illegal cache of weapons for months (see March 5-9, 1992). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Daniel Weyenberg, McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), Branch Davidians

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

BATF logo.BATF logo. [Source: Wikimedia]The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF, sometimes known as the ATF) opens an investigation of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas, after learning that a resident had mail-ordered a box of dummy grenades. Lieutenant Gene Barber of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department meets with BATF agent Davy Aguilera; Barber, a recognized explosives expert, tells Aguilera that the United Parcel Service (UPS) package delivery service has delivered a number of packages containing firearms components and explosives (see May 1992) to the “Mag-Bag,” the UPS nickname for the Davidian tract, in the names of David Koresh and Mike Schroeder. Koresh is the leader of the religious community that lives on the tract (see November 3, 1987 and After), which is also known to area residents as Mt. Carmel. UPS employee Larry Gilbreath reported the suspicious deliveries to the local sheriff’s department. Gilbreath also informed Barber that the compound seems to be patrolled by armed guards. In May 1992, UPS delivered two cases of inert hand grenades and a quantity of black powder to the compound; in early June, UPS delivered 90 pounds of powdered aluminum, 30 to 40 heavy cardboard tubes, and 60 M-16/AR-15 ammunition magazines. Barber also gives Aguilera aerial photos of the compound, taken by the sheriff’s department, which depict a buried bus near the main structure and a three- to four-story tall observation tower. He tells Aguilera that neighbors have heard machine-gun fire coming from the property. Aguilera determines that in late 1992, the Davidians spent over $44,000 on parts for M-16/AR-15 machine guns, as well as a variety of other weaponry and weapons parts. Some of the parts come from an Illinois firm under investigation for selling illegal guns and gun parts. [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 2/25/1993; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Aguilera officially opens a BATF investigation on Koresh and the Davidians on June 9. Within a week, Philip Chojnacki, the special agent in charge of the Houston BATF office, classifies the case “sensitive,” thereby calling for a high degree of oversight from both Houston and BATF headquarters in Washington, DC. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that the BATF investigation is “grossly incompetent” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, Larry Gilbreath, David Koresh, Gene Barber, McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), Philip Chojnacki, Michael Schroeder, United Parcel Service, Davy Aguilera, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

BATF agents attempt to enter the Branch Davidian compound.BATF agents attempt to enter the Branch Davidian compound. [Source: Associated Press]During the raid on the Waco, Texas, Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and 9:30 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993), Wayne Martin, a Davidian and a Harvard-educated lawyer, calls 911. According to a recording of his call, Martin shouts: “There are 75 men around our building and they’re shooting at us! Tell ‘em there are children and women in here and to call it off!” Other similar phone calls are made to the 911 center and to the sheriff’s office. The sheriff attempts to reach the BATF commanders and put them in touch with Martin. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] Audiotapes of the phone calls between Martin and McLennan County Sheriff’s Department official Larry Lynch, released months later (see June 2003 and After), show Lynch’s efforts to persuade Martin to have the Davidians stop firing on wounded agents. Lynch asks Martin to let four wounded BATF agents reach another agent shot six times during the battle; Martin suddenly says the others in the compound fear an all-out assault. “We’re worried that the National Guard will fly in here with choppers,” he says. “We’re gonna assume that any chopper that comes in is National Guard.” While Lynch works to calm Martin, a BATF agent on another line tells Lynch: “All of our guys are in the open right now. If they open up, we’re gonna lose 20 guys.” Lynch asks Martin if the authorities can help any wounded Davidians, only to be told: “Here’s the message. We don’t want any help from your country.… I can tell you now. They’re not gonna leave this property.… Nobody wants to leave.… Each man’s making his own decision.… Some of them are dying.” [Dallas Morning News, 8/7/1993]

Entity Tags: Wayne Martin, Branch Davidians, Larry Lynch, McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Some Waco-area authorities say the local law enforcement officials and judiciary erred in ignoring the Branch Davidians’ propensity for violence and stockpiling weapons when Davidian leader David Koresh and some of his followers were charged with violent felonies (see November 3, 1987 and After). Koresh and an unknown number of his Davidians are now besieged by FBI forces in their compound outside Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). Because Koresh’s trial ended in a hung jury, and the charges against his followers dismissed, all of their weapons were returned to them as federal and state law mandates. El-Hadi J. Shabazz, who as an assistant district attorney prosecuted Koresh and the other Davidians in 1987, says, “A McLennan County sheriff’s deputy out there said at the time they had enough weapons and ammunition to hold off the entire McLennan County Sheriff’s Department, the police department, and the local National Guard.” Five semi-automatic assault rifles, five ordinary rifles, two shotguns, and a large amount of ammunition were confiscated from Koresh and his five followers, and subsequently returned. “That was 1987,” Shabazz says. “Imagine what they have in 1993.” [New York Times, 3/10/1993]

Entity Tags: El-Hadi J. Shabazz, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), Federal Bureau of Investigation

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

The House Appropriations subcommittee investigating the Branch Davidian tragedy in Waco (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993) releases heavily edited excerpts from 911 call conversations between federal agents and Davidian members made during the February 1993 raid on the Davidian compound by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF—see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). A Dallas FBI agent released edited portions of the tapes to a Congressional investigator, who gave the tapes to the subcommittee members. The Justice Department says the FBI agent, Oliver “Buck” Revell, erred in giving the tape; a department investigation finds Revell did not knowingly do anything wrong in releasing the tape, which is used by the FBI to train negotiators to deal with similar situations. The McLennan County, Texas, Police Department releases unedited versions of the tapes shortly after the House subcommittee makes its tapes public; federal prosecutors who intend to prosecute some of the surviving Davidians (see August 7, 1993) had intended to keep the tapes secret until the trial. Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) asks Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate the tape’s initial release, saying: “Who edited the version of the tape given to the House in the first place, and why, in that version, are conversations with David Koresh out of order? Is there a reason why the FBI, for training purposes, would leave out the threatening statements made by the Branch Davidians on the actual tape?” The House subcommittee was told that the tape was an accurate recording of the first half-hour of local police negotiations with Davidian Wayne Martin. “The release of altered tapes that are evidence before a grand jury is an assault on the department’s integrity,” DeConcini writes. “It is essential that this matter be investigated thoroughly and that the individuals responsible receive the most severe penalties available under the law.” The edited tape makes it appear that the 911 call center could not reach BATF agents for almost an hour after the 911 calls commenced. The police tapes feature two unedited hours of conversation between Martin and local law enforcement officials, and show that 911 operators made contact with BATF raid commanders within a half-hour of the first call to the hotline by Martin. The police tapes also indicate that BATF officials worked closely with the 911 call center to negotiate a cease-fire and evacuation of wounded federal agents. [Dallas Morning News, 8/7/1993]

Entity Tags: McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Dennis DeConcini, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, House Committee on Appropriations, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, Wayne Martin, Oliver (“Buck”) Revell

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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