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No Indictment in Death of Immigrant

Law: A Houston grand jury's failure to bring charges against police officers angers the Latino community.

May 03, 2002|From Reuters

HOUSTON — A grand jury Thursday chose not to indict four police officers in the suffocation death of a Mexican immigrant in a case that angered Latino leaders.

They said the Harris County grand jury's decision sent a racist message and called for the Latino community to take "drastic action."

The Baytown police officers were accused of using excessive force when they detained Luis Alfonso Torres, 45, on Jan. 19 after he fled from an ambulance called in by relatives concerned that he had high blood pressure.

A police video showed the officers throwing him to the ground, then piling on top of him as he struggled to get up. Torres, a legal immigrant from Mexico, stopped breathing and died the next day in the hospital.

The death was ruled a homicide by Harris County Medical Examiner Joye Carter, who said Torres suffered "mechanical asphyxiation," or compression of his airways.

Baytown police officials defended the officers, saying they followed proper procedures.

League of United Latin American Citizens local director Johnny Mata reacted angrily to the grand jury's decision.

"The message is 'it's open season to kill Mexicans and get away with it,'" he said at a news conference.

He said Latinos should consider a citywide work stoppage to make their anger known.

"Think about how many people would not report to work in a lot of the construction sites and the loss of money the city will have," Mata said.

Mexican Consul Enrique Buj Flores, at the same conference, said he "deeply deplored the grand jury's decision" but charged that police officers in Houston are not punished for crimes against Mexicans.

In another controversial case, a 1998 grand jury refused to indict Houston police officers who shot Mexican immigrant Pedro Obregon Navarro to death after breaking into his apartment without a warrant in search of drugs. No drugs were found, and the Houston police chief called the case an "egregious" case of official misconduct, but the Harris County grand jury thought otherwise.

Harris County prosecutor Don Smyth, who helped direct the grand jury's investigation in the Torres case, said the jury had done well.

"They made a full inquiry, and I have no reason to believe any other grand jury would not reach the same conclusion," the prosecutor said.

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