WACO lawsuit update
Date: Wed, 19 Jul 95 16:05:39 -0700
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: WACO lawsuit update
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LAWYER, EX-BATF AGENT, SHOW GOVERNMENT PHOTOS FROM WACO
by Calvin Demmon
American Reporter Correspondent
MONTEREY, CA -- With eight days of Congressional hearings set to begin
Wednesday into the Branch Davidian disaster at Waco, Texas, a lawyer for
three survivors and the families of 23 who died has just concluded a
weeklong roadshow tour of 10 cities in California.
He brought with him a collection of dramatic photographs that were taken
by government agents in helicopters and on the ground during the April 19,
1993, assault on the Branch Davidians' Mt. Carmel Center.
Though television viewers worldwide witnessed the fiery destruction,
many of the photos displayed by Attorney Kirk D. Lyons, of the CAUSE
Foundation in North Carolina, have never been seen in public before.
Some were shown on ABC's "Nightline" last week. But Lyons has had them
for more than a year. He got them from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), through the legal process known as discovery,
after filing suit on Sept. 29, 1993.
While TV coverage focused on the front of the ramshackle buildings in
which the Branch Davidians lived and died, government photographers took
simultaneous pictures in the rear.
Among other things, the crisp, clear photos show a crunching attack on
a rear corner of the complex by a 52-ton battle tank with a bulldozer blade.
The tank, backing up and moving forward repeatedly, punches a hole in
the rear of the building, drives onto the rubble, and finally rolls foward
onto the structure's collapsed roof.
Narrating the slides was Richard Sherrow, a former employee of the
federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) specializing in
explosives and arson investigation.
Sherrow, a consultant to CAUSE, has been subpoenaed to testify at this
week's Congressional hearings. The government's explanation for the action
at the rear of the building, according to Sherrow, is that tanks were trying
to create an escape route for trapped Branch Davidians.
On a good day, for a person in good health, Sherrow said, it might not
be very difficult to walk over the pile of splintered wood, broken glass
and other construction materials left when the tank finished its work.
But the occupants of the Branch Davidian buildings had been inside for
51 days, subjected to recorded sounds (including the screams of dying
rabbits) over powerful loudspeakers, unable to sleep -- and they were
convinced that the government was trying to kill them.
Besides their dramatic slide-show, Lyons and Sherrow presented a raft
of information obtained from government documents released to them under
Among other things, they said:
* That the question of who fired first -- Davidians or government
snipers -- may never be resolved, at least in part because half of a door
that was said to be riddled with incoming-only bullet holes "disappeared''
while in government custody.
* That CAUSE obtained a judge's signed order requiring the Waco medical
examiner not to dispose of bodies that had been retrieved from the rubble
until they could be re-autopsied -- but that when the order was served, the
medical examiner apologized, saying that the freezer where the bodies were
held had been off for a month accidentally, and that the bodies had
* That the question the federal government is "most afraid of" is
whether the helicopters fired on the buildings. "I have come to the personal
conclusion that this is true," Lyons said.
* That Lon T. Horiuchi, an elite FBI hostage rescue-team sniper who
killed unarmed Vicki Weaver during a government assault six months earlier
in rural Northern Idaho, was "Red Team Leader'' at Waco and drove one of
* That at 6 a.m. on the morning of the final assault, before the fire
began, nearby Parkland Hospital got a call from a man who said he was an
FBI agent, telling the hospital to get its burn unit ready.
Lyons said he doesn't allege that the government set the fire, but that
he believes officials in charge of the raid knew that their actions would
"create a death trap from which the Branch Davidians were unable to
* That as tanks proceeded to batter the buildings apart, an infrared
camera mounted on an aircraft flying above picked up heat from the very
areas where the tanks were smashing into the walls. Lyons says it seems
fairly evident that as the building was being bashed a kerosene heater or
lantern knocked over and started the blaze.
* That the FBI's early reports that some Branch Davidians had been
bludgeoned to death were false; instead, the victims were hit by falling
* That the FBI threw stun grenades -- also known as "flash-bangs" -- at
some Branch Davidians who attempted to come out.
* That the FBI placed razor-wire around the building during the siege.
Sherrow showed a photo of a woman who left the burning building and became
entangled in the razor-wire.
* That despite the government's claim that fire engines weren't allowed
to approach because firefighters might be shot by Davidians, government
agents were photographed leisurely strolling around the grounds at the same
* That after concluding its investigations, the BATF bulldozed the
entire site, returning later to scrape off the topsoil as much as five feet
deep and carry it off, along with whatever human remains were still at the
site, to a garbage dump at an undisclosed location.
On the other hand, Lyons and Sherrow debunked some popular myths about
the fire. There were no flame-throwing tanks at the final assault, Sherrow
said, nor is there any evidence that government agents killed in the Feb.
23 assault died in "friendly fire." The Branch Davidians did fire back, he
said, believing that they were defending their home from an assault meant
to eradicate them.
"Credibility in what we are doing is everything," Sherrow said, adding
that CAUSE continually receives phone calls, letters and visits from
individuals offering unsupportable theories about the case.
Even if you believe everything the government has said about the
assaults, Lyons said, 76 people died as a result, including 17 children --
and the deaths were completely unnecessary.
CAUSE, believing the government repeatedly violated the Branch
Davidians' civil rights, was the first to file suit after the fire.
The group alleges that the BATF and FBI engaged in a conspiracy to
deprive citizens of their constitutional rights -- a conspiracy that
surfaced in the Weaver case in Idaho and later at Waco.
The CAUSE California tour was an experiment, Lyons said, to see if
members of the public would support the lawsuit after seeing what CAUSE has
pried out of the government so far.
He said CAUSE needs about $500,000 and has collected $60,000 in
donations so far. Though the tour didn't raise a lot of money immediately,
he said, it "planted a lot of seeds," and CAUSE may take its show on the
road again in other areas.
Lyons estimated that the suit won't go to trial for two or three more
years. As for this week's hearings, Lyons and Sherrow said they believe
the government may offer up three or four scapegoats, questions will remain
that can only be answered in a courtroom.
"I am so knee-deep in Waco, my whole day is Waco," Lyons said. "I'm
living in 1993."
(A four-page "Special Report on Waco" is available by sending a stamped,
self-addressed envelope to the CAUSE Foundation, P.O. Box 1235, Black
Mountain, N.C. 28711.)
© 1995 Peter Langston