Update: The Black Man Led Through Texas By Police On Horseback Is Suing The City For $1 Million
Updated October 12, 2020.
Two Gavelston, Texas police officers arrested 43-year-old Donald Neely on criminal trespassing 50 miles south-east of Houston. The officers are both white, while Neely is black, thus, a photograph of the two officers on horseback escorting Neely whose hands were tied with a rope, sparked public outrage. Civil Rights advocacy groups felt the picture echoed imagery from the Jim Crow era or Antebellum south.
While the Gavelston police were quick to apologize and change their policies, protestors demanded the officers’ release their bodycam footage of the incident, which took place last August.
Now, Neely is suing Galveston, Texas, and its police department for more than $1 million after the incident.
Officers arrested Donald Neely on horseback last fall.
In the absence of a police vehicle, two white officers led Neely by rope as they rode on horseback through the streets of Gavelston. Reports describe Neely as homeless and mentally ill after he was arrested for trespassing. When a photo of the incident began to circulate online, there was a national outcry with many believing it was needlessly degrading.
The police department admitted the officers demonstrated “poor judgment” and would not arrest someone using this method again.
Galveston’s police chief, Vernon Hale apologized calling the rope an, “unnecessary embarrassment.”
“We have immediately changed the policy to prevent the use of this technique and will review all mounted training and procedures for more appropriate methods,” Hale said. “We understand the negative perception of this action and believe it is most appropriate to cease the use of this technique.”
Neeley’s lawsuit states that he was humiliated by the officers as he was led down the street and wants to ensure that no one else endures a similar experience.
“Many individuals stopped, stared and asked questions. Neely felt as though he was put on display as slaves once were,” the lawsuit states.
Neely’s lawyer, Julie Ketterman, told CNN in a statement that her client “wants people to know that this lawsuit isn’t just about money. It’s about what is right and wrong for all people — whether they are black or white or whether they suffer from mental illness or whether they are homeless or not.”
Donald Neely’s family reacted on Facebook.
Donald Neely’s sister Christin Neely took to Facebook after the photos when viral. She shared her family’s story. Donald is mentally ill and became transient because of it. His family is still remarkably supportive and regularly searches for him when he goes missing. Fully aware that his unfortunate circumstances make him a target of law enforcement, it was no less traumatizing to discover how her brother had been arrested by seeing the viral photos.
“Imagine that you have a relative who is homeless and mentally ill… Imagine searching the streets of a city for days looking for your loved one, to no avail,” Christin wrote. “Just imagine for one second being one of his children who have been fatherless for years and your father isn’t incarcerated or dead. With all of that in mind, now imagine scrolling fb and seeing said loved one being escorted to jail on foot by 2 officers on horses, hands cuffed behind his back with a rope attached. In 2019???? He was treated like an animal paraded through the streets.”
After Christin’s post and viral outrage ensued, Hale issued an apology to Donald.
“First and foremost I must apologize to Mr. Neely for this unnecessary embarrassment. Although this is a trained technique and best practice in some scenarios, I believe our officers showed poor judgment in this instance and could have waited for a transport unit at the location of arrest,” Hale said.
Civil Rights groups and protestors have demanded more action in the case.
Civil Rights advocacy groups were not completely satisfied with the way the arrest was handled, even if they did appreciate the police’s quick apology. However, no disciplinary action was taken with the two officers.
“If it was a white man, he wouldn’t have been treated that way,” Leon Phillips, president of the Galveston Coalition for Justice, told the New York Times. “I guarantee there’s nothing in their rules that you can put a leash on a guy while you ride down the street on a horse.”
Phillips said that he grew up during segregation and the image made him emotional because during that time “people said and did whatever they wanted to,” to black folk. For Phillips, this incident was all too similar to many he had witnessed before.
“This is 2019 and not 1819,” James Douglas, the president of Houston’s NAACP, told the Houston Chronicle. “I am happy to know that Chief Vernon [Hale] issued an apology and indicated that the act showed poor judgment, but it also shows poor training. Even though the chief indicated that the technique would be discontinued he failed to address the lack of respect demonstrated by the officers in the episode.”
Protestors were able to get Gavelston police to release bodycam footage.
Protestors and advocates successfully got the Gavelston police to release bodycam footage of the incident. The two officers, Amanda Smith and Patrick Brosch each made their footage public.
In the video, Brosch asks Smith if she should go get her truck, but Smith feared their sergeant did not want the officers to separate.
“This is gonna look really bad,” Brosch says laughing, as they start escorting Donald Neely with the rope. “This is gonna look so bad. I’m glad you’re not embarrassed, Mr. Neely.”
Police Chief Hale says that the report and footage will be used to determine if further action must be taken.
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