Former Gary Police Chief Thomas Houston died Wednesday night in a North Carolina hospital after a battle with prostate cancer, his family confirmed late Friday.
Houston's son, also named Thomas Houston, said his father died just before midnight Wednesday at Durham Regional Hospital in Durham. The elder Houston had been serving a three-year, five-month federal prison sentence in Butner, N.C., after being convicted of violating the rights of a man accused of burglarizing Houston's home in 2007.
The younger Houston said he visited his father earlier this week in North Carolina and they prayed together.
"Dying of cancer is like looking Satan himself in the face, to see my dad age 10 years in a day," he said. "It was a heck of a way to start Thanksgiving."
Houston's family and friends fought vigorously for the elder Houston's sentence to be modified so he could spend his last days at home in Indiana, but his illness was swifter than the court process.
Gary attorney Karen Freeman-Wilson, who was representing Houston for the modification and in a civil suit, said they were waiting on copies of his medical records. She said her only regret is not having been able to do more to get him home.
"There was so much frustration among so many of us," she said. "While you always respect a jury's verdict, it in no way reflected the type of person he was. For someone who has given as much as he has to the Police Department and to this community to be reduced to dying in prison. ... It was just hard to handle."
Houston had a distinguished 42-year police career that ended June 1, 2007, six days into his tenure as chief. When Houston came home from a funeral for an officer's son and found his house had been burglarized, he rounded up officers and stormed the home of suspects in the burglary.
A federal jury convicted Houston of violating the burglary suspect Victor Adams' rights by kicking him while he was handcuffed. He was found not guilty of four other charges.
Gary police Lt. Bruce Outlaw Sr., Houston's friend and a 26-year veteran of the department, said Houston was a patrol officer when Outlaw was growing up in Gary.
He remembers Houston as a warrior who commanded the respect of fellow officers and Gary residents. Houston also was fair and compassionate, Outlaw added.
"It was an honor to serve with him," Outlaw said. "I'd do it again."
Current Gary Police Chief Gary Carter said Houston was an "excellent supervisor" and a "policeman's policeman" who earned his fellow officers' trust.
"He's sadly missed," Carter said. "A wealth of knowledge went with him."
Lt. Del Stout, president of Gary's Fraternal Order of Police, said Houston was a good chief who led by example.
Houston's son said his father was a pivotal member of the family and of Northwest Indiana.
"I didn't just lose my father," he said. "A vast majority of people in Northwest Indiana lost a father figure."