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Grand Jury Investigation into the Death of José Campos Torres (1977)


Sound | 1977

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  •  Houston Police Chief B. G. “Pappy” Bond holds a press conference in his office. Bond resigned months later after only serving a year.  
  •  Defense attorney Bob Bennett and his client, Terry Denson, exit the courtroom to deliver comments to the press. Defense attorney Mike Ramsey and his client, Steven Orlando, follow. 
  •  Reporters interview Harris County District Attorney Carol Vance 
  •  Divers search the depths of Buffalo Bayou for Torres’ wallet 
  •  Protests outside the Harris County Courthouse 
  •  Chief Bond comments on the function of the Civilian Review Board. While Bond says that he “cannot create a police review board,” the Houston Police Department established the Internal Affairs Division soon after Torres’ death to investigate police misconduct.  
  •  Retracing Torres’ final steps 
  •  Assistant District Attorney Ted Poe talks about coordination between the District Attorney’s Office and the grand jury. Poe served as a chief felony prosecutor for eight years before being appointed a state district judge in 1981. Sentencing offenders to perform humiliating tasks like shoveling manure, he became known as the “King of Shame.” In 2004, Poe was elected to the United States House of Representatives, serving for 14 years. 
  •  Chief Bond introduces possible disciplinary action against the offending officers through the civil service law 
  •  KPRC reporter Don Shelby speculates on the possibility of a second assault on Torres in between the time when officers brought him to the jail and when he ended up in the bayou 
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This edited footage from Houston’s KPRC-TV follows the grand jury investigation into the death of José Campos Torres, a 23-year-old Mexican American and Vietnam War veteran. Many segments are silent and would have been voiced over by the anchorperson during a live broadcast. On the night of May 5, 1977, Houston police officers arrested Torres at an East End bar for disorderly conduct. Rather than transport him to jail for booking, the six responding officers first took Torres to “The Hole,” an isolated area behind a warehouse along Buffalo Bayou. There, they brutally beat him for several hours. By the time Torres arrived at the jail, authorities refused to book him due to the extent of his injuries. A desk sergeant ordered the six officers to take Torres to Ben Taub General Hospital for medical treatment. Instead, they brought him back to the Hole. Following another beating, officers pushed Torres off a raised platform into Buffalo Bayou. Torres subsequently drowned. His body was found on May 8—Mother’s Day. On June 28, a Harris County grand jury indicted two of the officers, Terry Denson and Steven Orlando, for murder and a third, J. J. Janisch, for misdemeanor assault. The state granted immunity for two others, Glenn Brinkmeyer and Lewis Kinney, in exchange for their testimony. Following a month-long trial, an all-white jury convicted Denson and Orlando on a reduced charge of negligent homicide—a misdemeanor—on October 6. State District Judge James Warref of Walker County sentenced them to one year probation and a $1 fine. The US Department of Justice subsequently conducted its own investigation. All six officers were found guilty of violating Torres’ civil rights, and given a ten-year suspended sentence. Denson and Orlando were also convicted of assault and sentenced to nine months in prison. The case and its verdict outraged the local Mexican-American community, sparking protests outside the Harris County Courthouse and police headquarters. On the one-year anniversary of Torres’ death, the simmering social unrest erupted into riots. When police attempted to make an arrest at a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Moody Park, attendees began throwing rocks and overturning police cars. The Torres case prompted the Houston Police Department to create its Internal Affairs Division in 1977.