Protesters vow to press fight over Oregon

October 19, 1998

By JO ANN ZUIGA and S.K. BARDWELL Copyright 1998 Houston Chronicle

The mother of a man killed in his home by police expressed disappointment Monday at a grand jury's decision to indict only one officer involved in the fatal raid, and that for criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.

"I'm very sad about what has happened. Maybe if I could speak English, they would have listened to me," said Claudia Navarro, mother of Pedro Oregon Navarro.

"I'm very frustrated, but I believe there is a God, and we are still waiting for justice."

Members of the Hispanic community vowed to fight for further action against the officers involved while police and a civil rights group asked those anger

"It offends anyone who has any sense of justice," said City Councilman John Castillo. "There are going to be great feelings of helplessness, anger, frustration, which can lead to awful conclusions. I think people need to be aware this can still be handled at the federal level."

Rick Dovalina, national president of LULAC, said: "Good police are tainted by this process. We believe there's enough information right now for the chief to fire those police officers ... It's not fair to the other good officers you have over there."

The National Latino Peace Officers' Association, under the presidency of HPD police Officer Adrian Garcia, released a statement "calling out to the Hispanic community to stand strong on whatever their position may be on this issue, but to reaffirm their position in a nondestructive manner."

"Our concern is, there may be persons who would encourage this kind of behavior, such as what happened in Houston in 1978 when the Moody Park riot occurred.

"Unfortunately, it has taken over 20 years to repair the morale of that community because of that riot."

But other police officers are not sure that calm will prevail.

"There's going to be trouble," one Houston officer said. "The public isn't going to understand. I'm not sure I do."

Mayor Lee Brown and three City Council members said Monday they are seeking a federal grand jury investigation of the incidents surrounding Oregon's death.

Brown, Castillo, Orlando Sanchez and Annise Parker dispatched the joint request soon after the grand jury verdict was announced.

"We feel it is very important for Houstonians to know that this is not the end of the road," Sanchez said. "Even though the county grand jury found only one indictable offense, we want to ensure that no federal laws were broken."

Oregon was killed July 12 when officers assigned to an HPD gang task force raided his apartment based on information supplied by a drug suspect.

As at least six officers crowded into a narrow hallway outside Oregon's bedroom, one officer shouted that Oregon had a gun. When an officer's gun discharged accidentally, others said, they believed Oregon had fired on them.

More than 30 shots were fired in the confined space, 12 hitting Oregon, mainly in the back and from above. The 22-year-old father of two died. No drugs were found in his apartment.

The single indictment handed down Monday was against Officer James R. Willis.

"I understand how they could all not be indicted for the shooting," said one officer. "I'm not really sure how just one of them could be indicted for criminal trespass."

Several officers who spoke to the Chronicle Monday did so on condition they not be identified. Although the criminal investigation concluded Monday, HPD's administrative investigation is ongoing, and officers are prohibited from discussing it.

None of the officers expressed surprise at the lack of indictments. As one put it: "I thought from the beginning that the shooting was a tragic accident. It was what led them to go into the apartment that I thought might have been criminal."

That officer, assigned to another gang task force, said the officers involved in the Oregon raid made mistakes.

Such raids, the officer explained, might be based on an informant's tip, but the tip has to be taken to a judge who reviews it and issues a warrant if the tip is found to be sufficient cause for a raid.

HPD policy requires all such informants to be registered with the department. The one used in the Oregon raid not only was not registered, he was on probation, which would have made him ineligible to become an HPD informant.

What surprised most of the officers about the grand jury's action, they said Monday, was that only one officer was indicted for entering the apartment illegally.

All the officers who spoke expressed concern about how the public would view the matter. Said one officer, a 23-year veteran: "I don't think this is going to be as bad as Joe Campos Torres -- but I say that hopefully."

Torres, a young Vietnam veteran, died in May 1977 after Houston police who arrested him for being drunk beat him and threw him into Buffalo Bayou, where he drowned. Some of the officers involved later got probated one-year sentences.

In May 1978, anger over the death and the lack of punishment prompted the Moody Park riot, which sent 15 people to the hospital.


About LULAC | Members | Programs | Issues | Events | Publications | Links | Site Map | Home | Email