Police in Houston, Texas are facing public protest after allegations of excessive force and racism were made by guests at a family party where seven people were arrested after officers answered a loud music complaint. Much of the incident was recorded on cell phone video released Sunday.
Dozens of angry protesters marched on the Baytown Police Department Sunday calling its officers criminal and abusive toward Hispanic people.
The video shows officers tasering 53 year old grandma and matriarch Maria Zepeda, and wrestling other family members to the floor, while several children are seen crying because they have pepper spray in their eyes.
Police Version of Events
Police say neighbors complained about the noise earlier in the evening, and two officers gave homeowner Jose Zepeda a warning. Officers returned around midnight, says Det. Edgar Elizondo, where it is alleged the officers found Zepeda in his backyard with 15-20 partygoers, and wrote him a ticket for disturbing the peace.
Elizondo says Zepeda refused to sign the citation, and the officers attempted to arrest him. Elizondo says three men stepped in to stop them: Rodolfo Zepeda, 19, Edgar Garcia, 24, and 23-year-old Christian Zepeda.
“From that point on, the three men started pushing the officers, assaulting the officers. Therefore one of the officers pulled out pepper spray and sprayed one time,” Elizondo said.
When the officers used pepper spray on the men, two of them ran into the house, Elizondo says, and the officers followed them. Once inside, police say someone locked the door behind the officers.
“You basically had a couple of officers inside trapped, fighting with people,” said Elizondo.
The officers put out a distress call. As help arrived, Elizondo says police used Tasers on three people who tried to interfere with arrests.
Although part of the video shows several young children crying and complaining that they have pepper spray in their eyes, Elizondo says the officers did not spray anyone inside the house. He suggested the children may have been affected by spray still clinging to the men’s clothes after they ran inside.
The Family’s Version of Events
The family claim police used the music complaint as a pretext to launch a racially motivated attack upon them. They are supported by the footage.
Grandmother Maria Zepeda is seen on the video writhing after being shot with a Taser. It appears Maria was shot four times with Tasers.
Her son, Gustavo Zepeda, says his mother did nothing to invite the brutal taser assault. He says was sitting in a chair when a female officer kicked her out of the chair when she didn’t respond to a police officers’ commands.
The family allege the video shows police referring to party-goers using racist names (specifically, ‘wet back’) during the struggle.
Seven family members were arrested on a misdemeanor charge of ‘interfering with police’.
Community activist Quanell X calls the video clear evidence of police brutality and abuse aimed at people of color.
“The Baytown Police Department has a notorious record of violating the civil rights of Mexicans and blacks,” he said.
“What are the citizens to do when they are being beaten and pepper-sprayed and Tasered, and they have done nothing criminal at all.”
Elizondo says the video has been turned over to prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney.