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Vol.63/No.37       October 25, 1999 
Houston cops plead not guilty in killing of Mexican immigrant Pedro Oregón  
HOUSTON, Texas — On September 28, two fired Houston police officers pled not guilty to federal charges of violating the civil rights of Pedro Oregón, a 22 year-old immigrant worker from Mexico killed July 12, 1998 during a drug raid by six cops.

In the assault on Oregón's apartment, the cops fired 33 rounds. Twelve shots hit Oregón, including nine in the back. No drugs were found there, and the autopsy showed no drugs or alcohol were present in the body.

Former Sgt. Darrel H. Strouse and James R. Willis were indicted September 20 by a federal grand jury convened more than six months ago. The maximum penalty if they are found guilty is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The two are accused of organizing the raid. The other four cops were not included in the indictment. All six were part of the so-called "gang task force" unit of the Houston police department (HPD).

Last November, in an effort to refurbish the HPD's image, the chief of police announced that the six were fired for violating department procedures.

A U.S. Magistrate judge who heard the pleas at the arraignment sided with the cops in granting a $10,000 unsecured bond based on the argument that the two had shown up for previous court appearances and posed no "flight risk."

Lawyers for the cops are expected to file motions to postpone the trial date, set for November 16, and are scheduled to appear before U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas to make their case. The ruling class in Houston has come under some pressure to address this issue following a sustained, year-long struggle to convict the cops led by the Justice for Pedro OregónCoalition.

Calls for federal charges came after local courts failed to convict a single police officer. Only one cop was indicted by a state grand jury that hewed to the police version of the event. In a sham trial that ended in March, that cop, James Willis, who was charged with a misdemeanor trespass charge, was found not guilty. The attempt to sweep the case under the rug, however, was met with renewed protests.

Based on this track record, even four members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Houston felt compelled to write a protest letter to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno calling for an end to the stalling on indicting the cops.

Mexico's embassy also threatened to issue a travel advisory to Mexican citizens warning them of the rash of police killings of Latinos in Houston, citing the Pedro Oregóncase as the most prominent.

At a brief informational picket at the federal courthouse September 28, spokespeople for the Justice for Pedro Oregóncoalition said they and their supporters will be present for the trial and demanded full prosecution. At the same time they explained they will continue to press for prosecution of all of the cops involved in Oregón's killing. They urged everyone to join their contingent at the October 22 National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality march and rally in downtown Houston.  
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