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KPRC Newsmen Injured During Moody Park Riot (1978)

KPRC-TV

Sound | 1978

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  •  KPRC newsman Jack Cato recounts his experience 
  •  Medical professionals assess Cato’s condition 
  •  KPRC cameraman Phil Archer receives treatment for his injuries 
  •  KPRC news director Ray Miller 
 
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In this unedited footage from Houston’s KPRC-TV, newsman Jack Cato recounts how he and cameraman Phil Archer were injured during the Moody Park Riot on May 7, 1978. On the evening of May 7, a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Moody Park erupted into riots. Tensions were running high between law enforcement and the Mexican-American community in the wake of the police-involved death of José Campos Torres the previous year. The situation escalated as more officers in riot gear arrived on the scene. Stores across a 10-block area around Fulton Street were looted and set on fire, while an officer suffered a broken leg after being struck by a car. According to Cato, he and Archer were attempting to photograph a city vehicle set ablaze when they found themselves surrounding by a group of hostile individuals. Cato was struck on the head with a brick before being stabbed on his backside. Archer was also beaten and stabbed. The two were hospitalized in satisfactory condition.
On the night of May 5, 1977, Houston police officers arrested José Campos Torres, a 23-year-old Mexican American and Vietnam War veteran, 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.