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Press Conference about Moody Park Riot (1978)


Sound | 1978

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  •  Houston Mayor Jim McConn praises the actions of police officers the previous night. McConn served as mayor of Houston from 1978 to 1982.  
  •  Caldwell comments on the media representation of the event 
  •  Houston Police Chief Harry Caldwell takes questions 
  •  Protest outside Houston City Hall demanding justice for José Campos Torres 
  •  Travis Morales, leader of a small group called People United Against Police Brutality, comments on a stabbing at the Moody Park Riot 
  •  Two women challenge Morales on his role in the riot. State Representative Ben Reyes, a leader in the Mexican-American community, blamed “outside agitators” like Morales for inciting the violence. He argued that Morales used the bullhorn intended for the Cinco de Mayo celebration to agitate and urge on the crowd. Morales was arrested and charged with felony riot on May 12.  
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In this unedited footage from Houston’s KPRC-TV, Houston Mayor Jim McConn holds a press conference to talk about the Moody Park Riot. In his statement, McConn commends the police response, saying that officers prevented “an explosive situation” from turning into a “war on the streets.” On the evening of May 7, 1978, 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, with stores across a 10-block area around Fulton Street looted and set on fire. Fifteen people were injured and 22 others were arrested. Also included in the footage are scenes of a demonstration outside Houston City Hall led by a small group called People United Against Police Brutality.
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.