History Faculty Publications and Presentations

Document Type


Publication Date



In May of 1963, a police officer in San Benito, Texas, arrested Antonio Mendoza, a Mexican American, for public drunkenness. After beating him, he placed the dazed prisoner in a jail cell. For more than seventeen hours, no one at the jail saw f it to tend to the prisoner’s wounds, provide food or water, or check on his overall well-being. By the time an official checked on him, Mendoza, overcome by fear, pain, or emotional distress—or by some combination of all three—had committed suicide. “The man was found the next morning hanging by a belt from a pipe in his cell,” wrote Carlos D. Conde, a young Mexican American reporter for the Dallas Morning News and a native of San Benito. The coroner ruled the death a suicide—a decision no one publicly disputed—but many Mexican Americans interpreted it as symptomatic of the racism that defined the town. “Friends of the dead man, including the widow, refused to let it end there. They asked a well-known Latin criminal lawyer of nearby Harlingen, Abel Toscano, [Jr.,] to represent them. Toscano accepted the case without fee.” Ironically, Conde added, “the alleged brutality charges involved a once popular Latin city policeman.”

Publication Title

New Mexico Historical Review

Included in

History Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.