HOUSTON – Forty-five years ago this week, the body of Joe Campos Torres was removed from Buffalo Bayou.
Sandra Torres explained: “He was found on Mother’s Day.”
In a never-before-heard interview only on KPRC 2, Joe Campos Torres’ sister opened up about her brother’s murder 45 years later.
Torres, a Vietnam veteran, 23 at the time, was arrested at an East End bar for disorderly conduct. He was severely beaten by Houston Police Department officers and then thrown into the water.
In 1977, Sandra was 8 years old.
“I was with my parents. We were in the movies, in the theater,” Torres said.
It was then that the family learned that the body extracted from Buffalo Bayou was that of 23-year-old Vietnam veteran Joe Campos Torres.
Known as “The Hole,” a spot along Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston is where Torres was beaten and thrown into the water by officers after being arrested for disorderly conduct.
Torres added: “And then they said, ‘Let’s see if this *** could swim?! My brother needed care, he fought for his country, and look what they did to him.
Two officers have been charged with Torres’ murder. Both were convicted of negligent homicide. An all-white jury sentenced the officers: one year probation and a $1 fine.
“So, what was my brother’s life worth, $1?” asked Torres.
Three other HPD officers were dismissed from the force, but have not been charged.
Torres explained that she didn’t live in fear but was scared as she got older because of what happened to her brother, at the hands of the police. But she doesn’t blame the police. “No no. I mean what’s the point?
A photo taken months after the murder hangs in the Torres’ home today. It shows Margaret Torres, Joe and Sandra’s mother speaking at a protest. In the crowd, Sandra.
A year after Torres’ murder, a riot breaks out in Moody Park. Four police officers and two BIG 2 News reporters were injured. KPRC 2 photojournalist Jack Cato was stabbed while covering the riot. His journalist, Phil Archer was also injured.
“We were surrounded by the crowd contingent. At some point someone grabbed the cable, attached it to my camera, and ripped it off my shoulder. I managed to say, ‘Stop that, you can’t do that,’ and I grabbed a brick in the face and I was from there,” Archer said.
While Archer was unconscious, he was stabbed in the abdomen. He came to when he received help.
“I was lucky my leg is still numb,” said Archer, who said it was one of the biggest stories of his career. “Yes, I should say that because we have become history.”
In June 2021, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner apologized to the Torres family, calling Joe’s murder “pure and simple murder”.
Torres said she believes her brother’s case has changed relationships with police within communities.
“I could say a little, a little,” she said.
In April of this year, the City of Houston unveiled Joe Campos Torres Memorial Plaza. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, “His life mattered, and our city will never let something like this happen again.
“It means a lot, a lot, a lot; but years later, all those years later. All these years later. I always wonder what life would be like? How would it be? If we had our brother here? If my mother had her son, what would life be like? asked Torres.
Since the Torres case hit the headlines in 1977, there have been hundreds more victims of police brutality.
“When I see loved ones lose family members, at the hands of the police, yes, it brings back memories. We know that feeling, we know how it feels, especially for parents like my mum, it is difficult,” Torres said.
Margaret Torres will be 88 this year. Sandra said her faith is what gets her through. Of Margaret’s nine children, six of them, including Joe, are deceased.
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