ATF agents settle suit with media over botched Waco raid
TEXAS–Federal agents and family members of agents involved in the 1993 Waco Branch Davidian raid reached a settlement in mid-October with a Waco newspaper and television station which, the agents claimed, informed the cult of the raid and were a direct cause of the deaths of four agents and more than 80 Branch Davidians.
The out-of-court settlement, which is confidential, was reached during mediation sessions ordered by a federal District Court judge in Waco.
David Mills, who represented Cox Texas Publications, said the organization’s insurance company settled the case for financial reasons despite objections from Cox Texas Publications. The news company would have liked the opportunity to argue against agents’ claims that Waco Tribune-Herald reporters acted negligently in covering the compound raid, he added.
Rick Bostwick, who defended KWTX-TV, said that although the case presented many different First Amendment issues upon which the station ought to have prevailed, continuing the case could have tied up station resources for years. Settling the case will relieve the station of that burden, he added.
Jim Dunnam, who represented a number of plaintiffs, said that the agents and family members were pleased by the outcome and felt justice was served.
A federal District Court in April dismissed some of the agents’ charges, including claims of conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress, but allowed the agents to proceed with their negligence claims.
Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and family members of agents who died claimed that reporters from the Tribune- Herald and KWTX-TV and employees of a local ambulance company informed the cult of the initial ATF raid through a series of both inadvertent and intentional actions. These actions, which included the Tribune- Herald’s refusal of a ATF request to delay publishing a series on Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, led to the failure of the raid and the 51-day stand-off that followed, the agents argued.
The media organizations, however, argued that the ATF commanders were at fault for the tragedy because they went ahead with the raid after finding out that Branch Davidian leader David Koresh knew about it. Further, the organizations said, their First Amendment rights to gather and disseminate news protect them from the claims. (Risenhoover v. Cox Texas Publications; Media Counsel: Rick Bostwick, Waco; David Mills, James Treanor, Jon Hart, Washington, D.C.)