Houston Police Chief Harry Caldwell yesterday fired five police officers and accepted the resignation of a sixth reportedly involved in the February 1977 shooting death of a teen-aged burglary suspect by police.
One of the officers, William Byrd, 24, had admitted in federal court Thursday that he gave a "throw down" gun to officer Norval Holloway, which Holloway placed near the body of Randall Webster, 17, of Shreveport, La.
Officer D.H. Mays shot Webster after the youth led officers on a high speed chase in a stolen van across the city's southeast side. Mays and other officers have contended the shooting was in self-defense.
Byrd's testimony did not explain how the unloaded .22 cal. pistol which police had recovered as evidence from the scene of a 1964 suicide, and which police records had shown as destroyed in 1968, came into his possession.
Caldwell fired Byrd, Mays, Holloway and officer John T. Olin and Lt. Paul Dillon. Officer James Estes resigned.
Caldwell refused to disclose what role Olin, Dillon or Estes played in the shooting or the initial cover-up of the incident.
In a plea-bargaining move, Byrd, a five-year veteran of the Houston police force, pleaded guilty to "misprison" - or concealment - of a felony, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
In exchange, Byrd agreed to testify against other officers who may be indicted for civil rights violations in the Webster case.
The grand jury has also indicted for perjury L. F. Daffern, a warehouse worker who claimed to have witnessed the Webster shooting and who, before a county grand jury last fall, backed up accounts by police officers at the scene that the shooting was in self-defense.
Two other civilians who claimed to have witnessed the shooting said the officers pulled the unarmed Webster from a stolen van, held him to the pavement, and shot him.
Eleven Houston police officers have resigned or been dismissed since mid April.
On Wednesday, Caldwell fired three officers after an internal police investigation found they had conspired to plant another "throw down" gun near the body of an 18-year-old burglary suspect shot by police in 1975.
On April 12, police jailer Roscoe Edwards was fired after he allegedly beat a fellow officer with brass knuckles during a fight at central police headquarters.
On April 10, FBI agents arrested assistant police chief Carrol Lynn on a charge of obstructing justice. He was fired last week. Lynn is accused of attempting to extort $45,000 from a Houston businessman faced with federal securities and mail fraud charges.
On March 28, three former Houston police officers each received one year in federal prison for their roles in the May 1977 death of Joe Campos Torres, a Mexican-American who drowned while in their custody.