Fallen Heroes: Officer Isaac Parsons

Nelson Zoch

 

May 24, 1914

In the afternoon hours of Saturday, May 23, 1914, there was a great deal of difficulty involving one suspect in the near Fifth Ward area. An unknown Negro male had been terrorizing the neighborhood and on several occasions, this suspect had fire shots.

Police Chief Chauffeur Granger and Police Secretary Edmund Cardona drove to this area in response to a call at one point this afternoon. A citizen pointed out the suspect, who then ran from the officers while armed with a rifle. They pursued him along some railroad tracks for some distance. They continued the pursuit as he ran through some vacant lots, taking to their feet instead of remaining on wheels. Granger emptied six rounds from his pistol, believing he had struck the suspect. However, the suspect escaped. Cardona was not armed at this point. Both men returned to headquarters.

There were two part-time Negro officers at the time, both of them very well respected throughout their department. They were HPD Special Officer Isaac Parsons, also known as “Ike” or “bunk,” also a full-time barber. The other was Harris County Sheriff’s Special Deputy Arthur Taylor, who had just recently been commissioned but had worked extensively with other deputies from his department prior to his commissioning.

On this night, HPD Chief Ben Davidson had assigned Officer John Richardson to team up with Officer Parsons. Between 9 and 10 p.m., Officer Parsons called in to say he would not be there to meet Officer Richardson since he had gone alone into the area to work on this problem.  Officer Richardson assigned Cardona to assist him.

Tragically, neither Richardson nor Cardona knew that Deputy Taylor also was in the area working on this situation. Richardson and Cardona rode the midnight Liberty Road trolley out of Houston to the intersection of Nance and Schwartz. There, they began their investigation by interviewing citizens who had knowledge of the havoc this suspect created in their neighborhood.

At about 12:35 a.m., they heard gunshots. Richardson and Cardona were aware that two other HPD Officers, Bryson and Lyons, were in the area. Fearing for their safety, they ran toward the sounds of the gunshots, which they believed to be on Barron between Cline and Meadow streets.  While en route, they heard two more shots.

Unknown to all, Deputy Taylor and Officer Parsons met up in the area and were working together. They apparently also heard the gunshots and were rushing to the same area. Officer Richardson saw a Negro male running toward him in the darkness. He flashed his pocket light on this male. Without recognizing Deputy Taylor, Officer Richardson observed that this male had a pistol in his hand. Richardson ordered him to drop the pistol, but the male refused. Richardson then began shooting, striking Taylor twice, instantly killing him.

Officer Parsons then came running into the area and Richardson and Cardona saw him running with a pistol in his hand. Richardson and Cardona then fired at this male, striking Parsons four times, instantly killing him. Upon closer observation of the two dead men, Richardson and Cardona recognized Parsons. They did not recognize Taylor due to his short tenure as a special deputy.

Chief Davison arrived on the scene, as did Justice of the Peace W. T. McDonald, who held an inquest. They found one of the dead men lying in a ditch. This was Officer Parsons and when ambulance attendants conducted their examination for the judge, they found his police badge in his coat, his pistol in its scabbard. He was shot twice in the side. Deputy Taylor lay dead only a few feet away, shot through the heart. Neither Parsons nor Taylor had fired their weapons.

In Taylor’s clothing was found a commission appointing him a special deputy by Sheriff Hammond. The commission was dated May 23, 1914, just one day before he was shot.

Chief Davidson immediately ordered a complete investigation into this tragedy. As a result of the initial investigation, there was no reason to believe that Officers Richardson and Cardona had known in the darkness that the two individuals were Officer Parsons and Deputy Taylor. However, complaints charging murder were filed against Officer John Richardson and Mr. Edmund Cardona, secretary to Police Chief Davison. The chief placed them on indefinite suspension and put them in jail. Judge McDonald set an examining trial and released each of the defendants on $250 bail.

Harris County District Attorney Clarence Kendall began a thorough investigation into the deaths of these two peace officers. He found that Deputy Taylor was killed by Officer Richardson, who said in an official statement that upon shining his light on Taylor, he did not recognize him, had never seen him before, and had not known of his commission or that he was officially on this case. He further stated that he had ordered Taylor to drop the pistol. Taylor raised the weapon and placed it on half cock. This happened in near total darkness from only a distance of six feet. Richardson fired two shots, striking and killing the deputy.

After those initial shots that took Deputy Taylor’s life, Officer Parsons came running across a ditch. Not recognizing him, Richardson fired twice and Cardona four times, striking the officer four times. Again, both Richardson and Cardona stated that they had no knowledge of these officers being in the area.

On Thursday, May 28, 1914, Justice of the Peace McDonald held an examining trial which resulted in the case being bound over to a grand jury. Both Richardson and Cardona were released on bail pending their trial. DA Clarence Kendall was in charge of the prosecution and the defendants were represented by attorneys James Storey and Campbell Sewell.

Isaac Parsons was born in Houston in the Fifth Ward on September 29, 1885. Funeral services for the officer, age twenty eight, were held on Monday, May 25, 1914. Burial followed at the Evergreen Cemetery (Lockwood and Market). He was the third of his family of three brothers to die a violent death. One brother was shot to death near Sugar Land and another recently died of stab wounds. However, Special Officer Isaac Parsons died an honorable death. He was single.

An investigation found that there were no witnesses who could in any manner implicate Officer Richardson or Mr. Cardona as having any malice toward Officer Parsons or Deputy Taylor. In other words, prosecutors couldn’t prove any intent, causing the authorities to declare the deaths a tragic case of mistaken identity. It would not be the first or the last time such a tragedy happened in the history of Harris County law enforcement. In 1974, an undercover Harris County narcotics officer was tragically shot and killed by a uniformed HPD officer. A grand jury later no billed the officer.

Court documents indicated the following in January 1915:

NOLLE PROSEQUI-No Prosecution: THE STATE OF TEXAS VS. JOHN RICHARDSON AND EDMUND CARDONA. Now comes the District Attorney, and asks the Court to dismiss the above entitled and numbered criminal action, for the following reasons, to-wit: Because the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction. The facts viewed from defendants’ standpoint as the law requires it to be viewed shows an excusable Homicide caused by mistaken identity and purpose. Signed by Criminal District Attorney John H. Crooker.

It should be noted that in 2001, retired HPD Officer Doug Hudson, who became a Harris County deputy sheriff, uncovered this tragedy while doing research into another Harris County deputy’s death. His documentation of this incident led to Officer Isaac Parsons being included in the names of HPD officers who lost their lives in the LINE OF DUTY. It was further through his efforts that the names of Officer Parsons and Deputy Taylor were submitted and accepted to be included on the Police Officer Memorials in Houston, The State Memorial in Austin and the National Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Deputy Hudson’s research also found that Officer Parsons was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery and that Deputy Taylor in Olivet Cemetery. Unfortunately, neither grave is marked.  A retired Prairie View A&M University professor, Dr. Woody Jones,  is involved in the restoration efforts at this cemetery, which has been badly neglected through the years. Efforts will continue in hopes of placing of a marker for both law enforcement officers if and when their actual burial sites are discovered.