Fallen Heroes: Officer Louis Kuba

Nelson Zoch

Louis Raymond Kuba was born on March 12, 1942 in Schwertner, Texas. His family moved to Nada, Texas. After graduating from Garwood High School in 1962, he served his country honorably for three years in the United States Army.

He joined the Houston Police Department on Dec. 27, 1966, in Police Cadet Class No. 34, graduating on April 14, 1967.  His first assignment was to Radio Patrol Night Shift.

TSU Campus Unrest

n May 1967, there existed an atmosphere of racial unrest in the Houston area, particularly around the campus of Texas Southern University. Demonstrations were held on May 15 and 16 at TSU, at the Holmes Road city dump (over a long promised incinerator) and at Northwood Junior High School on Homestead Road (over false rumors of a African American juvenile being shot by a white man).

On Tuesday, May 16, Criminal Intelligence Officers R. G. “Bobby” Blaylock and James O. “Bo” Norris were among many CID officers assigned to monitor these demonstrations. On this date, 29 people were arrested for illegally demonstrating at the Holmes Road site. CID Officers A. L. Blair and C. F. Howard had received information regarding large amounts of weapons being brought onto the TSU campus.

Intelligence also revealed that there were members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who were agitating students on campus. Blaylock and Norris were assigned to report to the TSU campus to monitor the activity.

There were numerous uniformed marked units in the area and CID Officers Blaylock, Norris, Blair, Howard and others were monitoring the activity.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. an individual named Charles Freeman began agitating a large crowd of students near the Student Activity Building. Then, a large watermelon was thrown by an individual identified as Douglas Wayne Waller onto the hood of a police car. At this time, Waller was arrested and found to be carrying a pistol. Leaders identified as Charles Freeman, Floyd Henry Nichols, Trazawell Franklin and John Parker continued agitating the crowd over the alleged Scenic Woods shooting. The crowd was going along with their prompting as some people threw rocks and bottles at the officers.

Unfortunately, the violence escalated as shortly thereafter shots were heard coming from the nearby men’s dormitory.  The gunfire continued and Officer Bobby Blaylock was hit in the left buttock. He was removed from the scene and taken to Ben Taub General Hospital.

There were now several hundred Houston police officers in and around the TSU campus. As can well be imagined, confusion and chaos reigned. The shots continued from the upper floors of the dormitory in question. Police Chief Herman Short arrived to direct the police operation. Black leaders were summoned to aid in keeping the situation from worsening. However, as they attempted to speak to the riotous crowd, they were turned back by a hail of gunfire in their direction. They were never able to negotiate.

At 2:20 a.m. a group of officers were near the northwest corner of the University Center. They were lined up along a wall awaiting directions from supervisors at the scene.  Chief Short, like all of the other officers, took cover wherever possible. The chief directed officers to fire only when fired upon and only above the building or directly at a known source of the gunfire.

‘It was War’

Reporters Charley Schneider of The Houston Post and Nick Gearhardt of KHOU-TV (Channel 11), were with this group of Officers. Schneider stated that there were two officers and a TV newsman in front of him and Officer Louis Kuba was directly behind him with his hand on Schneider’s shoulder.  Heavy fire continued from the dorm and Schneider suddenly felt Kuba’s hand become limp.

Turning, he saw the officer slumping backward into Gearhardt’s outstretched arms, an expressionless look on his face and blood pouring from his forehead. Schneider reported in a Post article the following day, “There was no riot at TSU. It was war.”

The wounded officer was rushed by ambulance to Ben Taub. He died at 8:38 a.m. from a bullet wound above his right eye.  Quiet, easy-going, even-tempered, Officer Louis Raymond Kuba, only 34 days out of Class No. 34, was only 25 years old.

He was survived by his wife, Patricia, who was seven months pregnant at the time. Other survivors were his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Kuba of Altair; grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Martinka of Granger; father- and mother-in-law Mr. and Mrs. James Bartlett of Houston; four sisters, Mrs. Henrietta Decker of Anto, Texas, Mrs. Mildred Squyres of Houston, Mrs. Rita Gravonic of Boling, Texas, and Miss Helen Kuba of Altair; five brothers, Teddy Kuba of Garwood, Rudy Kuba of Beasley, Milton Kuba, a soldier in the U. S. Army and Norbert and Andy Kuba of Altair.

A Bible Vigil service was held at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 18, at the Forest Park Lawndale Chapel. Funeral services were conducted at the St. Christopher Catholic Church at 8150 Park Place at 10 a.m. Friday, May 19. Burial followed in the Garden of Gethsemane Section of Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery.

Eventually, the shooting stopped and mass arrests were made. The record shows that 489 people were handled by local law enforcement agencies, which included not only HPD but the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety. When all was said and done, Douglas Waller, Charles Freeman, Floyd Nichols, Trazawell Franklin and John Parker  were charged with Inciting a Riot and Murder.

There were several other casualties of the riot. Vice Officer Allen Dale Dugger received a gaping secondary bullet wound to his face, which required over 300 stitches in three layers. One young officer went into hysteria and was treated for shock.

From a prosecutorial position, this would prove to be an extremely difficult case. Murder charges were filed and even though it was felt that the five suspects had incited the students to riot, there was no testimony to put guns in their hands or show that they were even on campus when the fatal shot was fired.

No Magic Bullet

Firearms analysis of the slug indicated that it was a secondary strike, meaning that the bullet had probably ricocheted off something prior to striking Kuba.  Additionally, the slug was not in very good shape for any positive matching to a particular weapon. To make matters even worse, it was not even the caliber of any of the weapons recovered at the scene.

As tough as this was to prosecute, Harris County District Attorney Carol Vance, a veteran prosecutor who had been elected to the top post in 1966, chose to take on this task. Because of extensive pre-trial publicity, a change of venue was sought and the trial was moved to Victoria, 90 miles southwest of Houston.

Vance later said that he and his staff were going into uncharted waters with this prosecution. The inciting to riot charge was very difficult to prove that it led to the murder of Officer Kuba. In Victoria, District Judge Joe Kelely dealt the prosecution a heavy blow when he refused to allow the jury to consider the state’s theory that Charles Freeman was guilty of the assault because he engaged in a riot.

Vance was quoted in a newspaper article as saying, “We were poured out of court, so to speak in Victoria, when we could not get the riot statute to be considered as part of the evidence.” The trial ended in a mistrial in October 1968.   After much legal research and after all other prosecutorial avenues were researched, Vance moved to dismiss the charges against the five was made Vance in November 1970. Obvioulsy all legal avenues had led to dead ends. All five defendants went free.

Patricia Kuba remarried. She gave birth to a daughter two months after her husband was killed. That daughter, Karen Lynette, eventually had a daughter of her own. Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Kuba lived into their nineties. All nine of Officer Kuba’s siblings were alive into the early 2000s. Sister Mildred was the wife of retired Houston Police Officer Charles Squyres of Columbus. The other sisters lived in cities and towns all across Texas, as did the brothers.

Retired Officer Squyres said in 2001 he remembers rushing to the hospital that night of the riot and learning, with his wife and Patricia and her parents that Louis was seriously wounded and survival would be a heartbreaking situation in itself. Squyres retired in 1984 from CID after 25 years with HPD.

What Happened Next

Just over a year after his brother-in-law’s murder, he was involved in the high-speed chase after the killer of Officer Ben Gerhart, which resulted in the tragic death of Officer Bobby James. Gerhart’s killer was shot and killed. Squyres not only lost his brother-in-law, but lost two close HPD friends in the Traffic Division in this violent incident 13 months later.

The original Homicide investigation was conducted by Detectives E. D. “Sonny” Combs and I. W. “Ira” Holmes.  Many others assisted in this massive investigation. Combs died in 1971 in his early 40’s from a Korean War-related condition. Holmes retired from the Forgery Division in 1987 with 38 years of service and resided in Magnolia. He died in September 2001 at age 76.

While the focus of this story is and should be on the tragedy that befell Officer Kuba, the careers of the other two wounded Officers could be a story in itself.

Officer Bobby Blaylock continued a long career of outstanding crime-fighting service in CID, retiring in 1977 after 20 years. He then worked for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office for 19 years, rising to the rank of chief investigator, retiring in 1996 and residing in Hunt, Texas. Blaylock still carries the TSU souvenir in his anatomy.

Bo Norris retired from HPD in 1978 and died in 1995. A. L. Blair retired from HPD Legal Services in 1999 with 42 years of service. C. F. Howard retired in 1984 and died in 1993. It should be noted that this foursome of CID officers, along with many others, played important intelligence and undercover roles not only in the 1967 TSU riot but also again in the People’s Party II incident on Dowling Street in 1970.

Officer Allen Dale Dugger retired from HPD in 1988 after 30 years and a lengthy and hardworking career in the Houston-Harris County Organized Crime Unit, doing mostly undercover work. He retired to Wimberly, Texas.

Dugger said that when he was shot, he was standing next to a uniformed officer, who, coincidentally, turned out to be his brother, Joe T. Dugger. He related how as he was being led to safety with blood gushing from his face, he saw Officer Kuba lying on the ground. Kuba and Dugger had been shot at almost the same time and in close proximity to each other.

Fortunately, most police officers go through their entire career without being shot. However, in the case of Dale Dugger, he may be the only HPD Officer to have been shot twice in the line of duty. Dugger was shot again in a 1971 incident by Kenneth Buntion, who was then shot and killed by other officers. Kenneth Buntion was the twin brother of Carl Wayne Buntion murdered Solo Officer Jim Irby 19 years later, in 1990. Carl Buntion has been on Death Row since March 6, 1991, while exhausting his appeals.

In this incident, Dugger, other Vice and CID Officers, as well as Pasadena officers were attempting to arrest Kenneth Buntion at 3132 Tidwell when Buntion came out shooting.  Dugger was struck in the femoral artery and would have bled to death had it not been for the medical assistance of a civilian at the scene, Norm Pullens. Pullens is the only civilian to have been awarded and recognized by the 100 Club of Greater Houston for truly saving Dale Dugger’s life.

Officers W. D. “Tooter” Steffenauer and Johnny R. Thornton shot and killed Kenneth Buntion. Thornton was shot in the arm and recovered from his wound. Both Steffenauer and Thornton retired from HPD.

The TSU riot of 1967 took the life of a fine, promising young officer. The entire Kuba family will never forget their loss. All of the officers who risked their lives that night for the peace and safety of Houston will not forget. We active and retired officers should not forget, either.