Just days before the presidential election, supporters of then-President Donald Trump ambushed a Biden campaign bus on a Texas highway, leaving staffers fearful for their safety and repeatedly calling local law officials for help.
But the City of San Marcos “refused to help,” instead privately mocking the Democratic staffers stuck on the bus and calling them “tards,” according to text messages and 911 audio recordings detailed in an amended federal lawsuit.
The Oct. 30 “Trump Train” incident sent shockwaves across the country after videos showed cars with MAGA flags seemingly trying to force the bus off the road as it headed to Austin for a rally. Trump himself commented on the run-in, retweeting a video of it along with the caption, “I LOVE TEXAS!” Videos showed a white SUV and a black truck colliding during the episode.
“For at least ninety minutes, including during the entirety of the stretch of I-35 inside the San Marcos city lines, the Trump Train pursued and terrorized” the bus, the lawsuit states, adding that occupants “tried to get help. They repeatedly called 911. They requested police escorts.”
But San Marcos cops and city officials “chose not to mount a response” from the moment dispatch received 911 calls pleading for help, the lawsuit alleges.
“Instead, according to text messages and 911 audio recordings obtained by Plaintiffs, they privately laughed and joked about the victims and their distress, including by calling them ‘tards,’ making fun of a campaign staffer’s ‘hard’ breathing, and retorting they should just ‘drive defensively’ or ‘leave the train.’”
The lawsuit, obtained by The Daily Beast, was filed by former state Sen. Wendy Davis, bus driver Timothy Holloway, campaign staffer David Gins, and volunteer Eric Cervini. It names a slew of city officials as defendants, including San Marcos’ director of public safety Chase Stapp, San Marcos Police Corporal Matthew Daenzer, and San Marcos assistant police chief Brandon Winkenwerder, and the city itself.
The lawsuit alleges San Marcos Police chose not to provide the Biden bus with a police escort despite multiple requests, and even refused “to take reasonable steps to protect both Plaintiffs’ safety and their foundational democratic rights.”
In a call transcript detailed in the suit, San Marcos Police Corporal Matthew Daenzer told a 911 dispatcher who had fielded a call from a terrified Biden campaign staffer: “No, we’re not going to do it. We will ‘close patrol’ that, but we’re not going to escort a bus.”
In a separate call, a New Braunfels dispatcher relayed a request for a police escort once the bus entered San Marcos’ jurisdiction. The dispatcher said the caller was “really worked up over it and he’s like breathing hard and stuff, like, ‘they’re being really aggressive.’ Okay. Calm down.”
“Yeah, well, drive defensively, and it’ll be great,” Daenzer responded. “Or leave the train. There’s an idea,” the dispatcher added.
According to the transcript in the lawsuit, the dispatcher eventually told the Biden staffer that the request for a police escort was denied—before adding: “If you feel like you’re being threatened or your life is threatened, definitely call us back.”
“Are you kidding me, ma’am?,” the staffer responded before stressing that the Trump supporters had “threatened my life on multiple occasions with vehicular collision.” The staffer again begged for an escort but the dispatcher refused, saying the order came “from our chief,” according to the suit.
The Biden campaign eventually canceled the event in the battleground state just days before the Nov. 3 election. The lawsuit states that a campaign volunteer informed Cole Stapp, a deputy in the San Marcos City Marshal’s department, of the cancelation and asked for help to still get the bus to the venue. Stapp allegedly called 911 dispatch to report the cancelation, but didn’t relay the request about the bus.
“Despite these multiple calls for help from Plaintiffs and others, for the roughly 30 minutes it took to drive through San Marcos on the main highway that runs through it, there were no officers from San Marcos or any other police cars in sight—not on the I-35 exit or entrance ramps, nor on either side of the highway,” the lawsuit says, noting that, without police intervention, Trump’s supporters felt embolden to continue their attack on the bus.
As the bus approached the city of Kyle, the lawsuit states, calls from terrified staffers were transferred to the Kyle Police Department.
“Shortly thereafter, a police escort arrived in Kyle, granting the bus a short reprieve,” the lawsuit says. “The Trump Train again de-escalated its harassing behavior and resumed driving at around the posted speed limit.”
But once the bus barreled toward the Travis County limit, and the Kyle police escort left, “the Trump train resumed their threatening behavior.”
The lawsuit states that in the days following the incident, “the officers realized that what had occurred in San Marcos might lead to political and legal consequences, calling the event a ‘debacle’ in internal emails and bracing themselves for a ‘political firestorm.’”
On Nov. 4, the lawsuit states, Daenzer tried to even downplay his department’s actions in his report, stating that “due to the staffing issues, lack of time to plan, and lack of knowledge of the route, we were unable to provide an escort.”
The amended suit, filed by several Democrats including former state Senator Wendy Davis, is asking for damages and a jury trial, stating that “as a result of the events of October 30, including those that occurred in the City of San Marcos, Plaintiffs suffer ongoing psychological and emotional injury.”
No one has been charged over the incident, but the FBI announced last November they had opened an investigation into alleged harassment.