A house party in Baytown, Texas, a town outside of Houston, resulted in a melee caught on video, during which police officers answering a loud music complaint used pepper spray and Tasers to subdue Latino family members who are now alleging excessive force and racism.
Seven family members were arrested and charged with interfering with police during the May 4 incident.
The encounter moved dozens of angry protesters to conduct a protest march on Sunday in front of the Baytown Police Department, accusing the officers of criminal and abusive behavior toward Hispanic people.
According to community activist Quanell X, the video shows 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?”
These are the details of the case: After two police officers warned homeowner Jose Zepeda earlier that evening that neighbors had complained about loud music, the officers returned around midnight to find Zepeda in his backyard with 15-20 partygoers, according to department spokesman Det. Edgar Elizondo.
But when the officers wrote Zepeda a ticket for disturbing the peace, he refused to sign the citation, prompting the officers to attempt to arrest him. Things escalated from there when 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.
Elizondo said two men ran into the house after they were pepper sprayed, with the officers in pursuit. But when the officers were inside, police say someone locked the door behind them.
“You basically had a couple of officers inside trapped, fighting with people,” said Elizondo.
After the officers put out a distress call and help arrived, Elizondo says police used Tasers on three people who tried to interfere with arrests, including 53-year-old Maria Zepeda, seen on the video writhing after being shot with a Taser.
According to her son, Gustavo Zepeda, all his mother was doing was sitting in a chair, when a female officer kicked her out of the chair when she didn’t respond to a police officer’s commands.
Family members claim Maria Zepeda was shot four times with Tasers but Elizondo says she was shocked once, when she tried to stop police from arresting her son.
In another part of the video, several young children are crying and complaining that they have pepper spray in their eyes. Elizondo suggests that the children may have been affected by spray still clinging to the men’s clothes after they ran inside.
Family members also said the officers used racist names, such as “wetback” to refer to them, but Elizondo denied the allegation.
“We slowed that video down and you could plainly hear the officers saying, ‘Get back, get back.’ There were no racial remarks made, most of the officers there were Hispanic,” Elizondo said.
The video has been turned over to prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney.