Cinco de Mayo Outrage


On May 5, 1977, Houston police 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 along Buffalo Bayou, and assaulted him. When Torres arrived at the jail several hours later, the desk sergeant refused to book him due to the extent of his injuries, and ordered the six officers to take Torres to the 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, where he subsequently drowned. His body was discovered on May 8.

A Harris County grand jury indicted two of the officers, Terry Denson and Steven Orlando, for murder. Following a month-long trial, an all-white jury convicted Denson and Orlando on a reduced charge of negligent homicide—a misdemeanor. Judge James Warref sentenced them to one year probation and a $1 fine. The US Department of Justice subsequently conducted its own investigation, convicting all six officers of violating Torres’ civil rights and Denson and Orlando of assault. To critics of the Houston Police Department, Torres’ death demonstrated a pattern of brute force and police violence. Even Mayor Fred Hofheinz admitted that there was “something loose in this city that is an illness.” The Washington Post reported that between January 1974 and June 1977, local grand juries did not bring charges in at least 24 cases in which a police officer shot and either wounded or killed a civilian. Public outcry prompted Police Chief B. G. “Pappy” Bond to create the department’s Internal Affairs Division on May 16. 

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