Broadcast live on May 8, 1978, this Big 2 News Special Report for Houston’s KPRC-TV provides updated coverage of the riot that erupted at Moody Park the previous night. By May 1978, tensions between law enforcement and the local Mexican American community were exceedingly high. Cinco de Mayo marked the one-year anniversary of the police-involved death of José Campos Torres, a 23-year-old Mexican American and Vietnam War veteran. That the officers responsible for Torres’ death faced only a yearlong probation and a dollar fine provoked further outrage. So when police arrived at the Moody Park celebration on May 7, 1978, to make an arrest for disorderly conduct, attendees retaliated. Some threw rocks and bottles at law enforcement officers, while others overturned police cars. 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.
In this special broadcast, Sara Lowrey reports live from Memorial Northwest Hospital to check in with her KPRC colleagues Phil Archer and Jack Cato, who were assaulted during the riot. Anchor Ron Stone then speaks with reporters Roger O’Neil and Alan Parcell about what they witnessed at the scene overnight and into the next morning. Parcell also talks with owners whose businesses were looted and damaged. Footage from a press conference with Mayor Jim McConn follows. The special concludes with interviews with State Representative Ben Reyes and community leader Eugene Mendoza, who both speculate about the presence of outside agitators.
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.