In 1977, a 23-year-old Mexican-American and Vietnam veteran was ruthlessly beaten by several Houston Police Department officers, which subsequently led to his death. He was assaulted by a group of on-duty police officers after being arrested for disorderly conduct at a bar in Houston’s Mexican-American East End neighborhood. The officers convicted for the death of Torres, at the state level, received minimal sentencing. Torres’ murder and sentencing sparked community outrage and lead to multiple community protests, with one gathering escalating to a riot.
The death of Jose Campos Torres at the hands of the Houston Police Department would be the spark that set off a powder keg that had been brewing between Houston’s Mexican-American community and it’s police department for a long time. It would push the city of Houston to the brink. And it would destroy the last shred of trust the Houston Latino community had in the police department meant to protect them.
After Jose Campos Torres, nothing would ever be the same. But Jose’s death would also plant the seeds of change in Houston.
Faced with no confidence on all sides, Five young Latino patrol officers were plucked from their beats to form a first-of-its-kind homicide squad; an all-Latino team tasked with solving the murders that plagued Houston’s Latino neighborhoods.
This is a piece of history you’ve never heard before. The story of a young band of police officers thrust into an impossible, unwinnable situation, by a police department with their back against the wall.
A story about a community who doesn’t often get their stories told. There were no oral histories, no TV specials, no museum displays. We’ve searched throughout the state of Texas for records, few and far between as they’ve been. We’ve heard accounts that have never been heard before. And now, we’re sharing them with you.
This is the story of the Chicano Squad.
Hosted by Cristela Alonzo. Produced by Frequency Machine and the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Cristela Alonzo – Host
Cristela Alonzo is a comedian, writer and advocate that recently served as a Latina surrogate on the Biden-Harris Presidential campaign. She has made TV/Film history twice as the first Latina to write, produce, and star in a network sitcom (Cristela) and the first Latina to star in a Disney Pixar film (Cars 3). Her stand-up special called “Lower Classy” is currently streaming on Netflix. Aside from entertainment, Cristela focuses on advocacy work, particularly fighting for issues affecting immigration, universal healthcare and lower income communities. She works with numerous organizations including Special Olympics Texas, People for the United Way, Planned Parenthood, LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero) and serves as advisory board member for Define American.
Eva Ruth Moravec – Producer
Eva Ruth Moravec is a freelance writer who has covered criminal justice for more than 15 years. She is also the co-founding executive director of the Texas Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that maintains a portal for data on the state’s criminal justice system. Eva Ruth started reporting at weekly newspapers before joining the San Antonio Express-News and later The Associated Press. Her investigative series, “Point of Impact,” highlighted shootings by police of unarmed Texans and ran in three daily newspapers. Eva Ruth’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic and ProPublica as well as numerous Texas publications.
Forty years after it was founded, the Chicano Squad was almost completely forgotten. In our final episode, a look at how a dedicated few made sure the Squad’s legacy would live on, and questions about what we can learn from them today.
After twenty years, the Chicano Squad had an extraordinary 91% clearance rate. But there were some cases where justice eluded even them.
Bobby Gatewood used to be one of the Chicano Squad’s stars, until temptations led him to make bad choices that got him suspended indefinitely. Benched and in financial free fall, how far will Bobby go to try and change his fortune?
The Chicano Squad has handled cartels, kidnappings, and cop killers. But can they handle corruption from within?
When two little girls go missing in Texas, only 11 days apart, it’s a race against the clock to bring them home safely. One will have the attention of the entire country – the other has the Chicano Squad.
Officer Jaime Escalante’s tenacious investigative style and work with confidential informants has earned him the fear and respect of the Colombian cartels. But when a police officer is murdered, finding the killers will mean more than just going up against drug dealers – he’ll have to stand up to other police officers, too.
Just when the Squad has begun to make real headway against the murders plaguing Houston’s Latino neighborhoods, a new, more sinister threat emerges. The Cartels have arrived in Houston – and they’re leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.
On their first day, the six Latino police officers who will become the Chicano Squad are handed a stack of fifty-two whodunits. These are murder cases with no leads and no hope. Until now
Growing up in the barrio, with brothers on the wrong side of the law, Cecil Mosqueda had every reason to distrust the police. He became a cop to prove there was a better way. But in the wake of José Campos Torres’ death, his loyalties to his badge and his community will be tested like never before.
When the officers involved in the drowning of José Campos Torres get off with little more than a slap on the wrist and a dollar fine, decades of racial tensions explode in what would come to be known as the Moody Park Riot. With its back against the wall, HPD needs to try something new.