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The Jose Campos Torres memorial, veteran mural. The plaza will open in late May.

Houston to unveil mural for unjustly murdered veteran

By Edward Saenz

A Vietnam war veteran who was killed by Houston police over 40 years ago is having a public plaza downtown dedicated in his honor.

“Mr. Campos Torres was brutally murdered in 1977. Nothing we do will bring him back to his loved ones. The monument will send a message; his life mattered, and our city will never let something like this happen again.” said Mayor Sylvester Turner at the opening of the Campos Torres memorial.

Jose Campos Torres was a 23-year-old Hispanic veteran who fought in the Vietnam war. On May 5, 1977, Campos Torres was arrested by Houston police outside a bar near Houston’s East End neighborhood. He was arrested for disorderly conduct and was promptly beaten.

Upon being taken to jail for booking, a supervisor said his injuries were too severe and to take Campos Torres to the hospital.

Instead, the responding officers beat Torres more and threw his body into Buffalo Bayou.

His body was found three days later.

Following the discovery, responding officers, Terry W. Denson and Stephen Orlando, were charged with murder. Then Police Chief B.G. Bond also fired three other officers involved in the incident.

The murder attracted nationwide attention, first on the overall assault and possible drowning, but later focused in on the racial aspect. Particularly the history of racism and misconduct that the Houston Police Department had repeatedly shown over the years.

The officers were convicted on the state level, and an all-white jury sentenced Orlando and Denson with negligent homicide, a misdemeanor charge. The charge came with one year of probation and a $1 fine.

The racially designed jury and small criminal convictions led to state-wide protests. The protests eventually led to negotiations between HPD officials and advocacy groups. As a result, additional HPD policies were created to address police-on-community racial relations.

Following the State of Texas’ controversial convictions of the two former officers, the case was reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice. This led to Orlando, Denson, and a third officer, J.J. Janisch, each being convicted of violating Campos Torres’ civil rights and being given ten-year suspended sentences, with Orlando and Denson being sentenced to an additional nine months in federal prison.

The memorial is located at 1301 Commerce Street and Buffalo Bayou, close to the spot where Torres was thrown into the bayou.

“Facing injustice, recognizing racism, acknowledging wrongs --- that is how a city heals and moves forward to become a better place for everyone.”

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Last updated 5/24/2022 4:54 AM