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Protests Against Police Brutality (1977)

KPRC-TV

Sound | 1977

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  •  Officers Terry Denson and Steven Orlando were indicted for murder on June 28. 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. 
 
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This unedited footage from Houston’s KPRC-TV captures protesters outside the Houston Police Department headquarters on May 16, 1977. Carrying picket signs reading “Protection not police brutality” and “Stop the war against Chicano people,” the demonstrators were protesting the police-involved death of José Campos Torres. Torres, a 23-year-old Mexican American and Vietnam War veteran, drowned on May 8 after six officers assaulted him and pushed him into Buffalo Bayou. Following public outcry, Houston Police Chief B. G. “Pappy” Bond created the department’s Internal Affairs Division on May 16.
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.