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 ago, the body of 23-year-old José Campos Torres was discovered in the waters of Buffalo Bayou. The city of Houston would never be the same.