Galveston police apologize after officers on horseback lead handcuffed man with rope

Officers led handcuffed man with rope, Galveston police apologize

Police officials in Galveston, Texas, apologized after a photograph of horse-mounted officers leading a handcuffed black man by a rope went viral.

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In a news release Monday, police officials confirmed the officers "clipped" a "line" to the handcuffs of Donald Neely, 43, who was arrested Saturday on a criminal trespassing charge, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Erin Toberman, a former Galveston resident who has run a civic engagement program in the city, told The Galveston County Daily News, the police action was "a gross decision," and compared it to a chattel slave being led by a man on horseback, a drawing that can be seen at the Frederick Douglass birthplace website.

“I find this a poor example of any kind of law enforcement,” Toberman said. “It sends a message that they don’t know how to do their job.”

Galveston Police Department Chief Vernon L. Hale III issued a statement of apology and said the practice will be immediately discontinued, KPRC reported.

"First and foremost I must apologize to Mr. Neely for this unnecessary embarrassment," Hale said. "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. My officers did not have any malicious intent at the time of the arrest, but 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."

According to police, a unit the officers called to transport Neely was not available, so the officers chose to walk the man across a Galveston intersection where mounted units were staging, according to the Daily News.

Hale told the newspaper the technique is usually used when extracting people from large crowds.

"In my opinion, quite frankly, I think my guys showed some poor judgment in this scenario," Hale told the Daily News. "It wasn't a crowd-control scenario or anything like that. They should have waited on a unit."

Police officials identified the officers as P. Brosch and A. Smith, KTRK reported. The officers were wearing body cameras, which were activated, officials told the television station.

Leon Phillips, president of the Galveston Coalition for Justice, applauded Hale's quick action but said he hoped the officers would be disciplined. He also told the Chronicle he was concerned about the impact the photo might have on Galveston's tourism industry, particularly since the picture has been shared multiple times on social media.

"Stay there with (Neely) instead of humiliating him," Phillips told the newspaper. "And now you've humiliated the whole city of Galveston because everybody who sees it is going to have an opinion."

Neely has a history of arrests in the Galveston area since 1994, according to the Daily News. He has been arrested for criminal trespassing six times this year, according to court records.

An attorney for Neely's family said the 43-year-old is mentally ill and homeless, KPRC reported. Neely's sister left for Galveston to find him, the television station reported.

Adrienne Bell, a candidate for representative in Texas' 14th Congressional District, posted the photo of Neely being led across the street on her Twitter account.

“It is hard to understand why these officers felt this young man required a leash, as he was handcuffed and walking between two mounted officers,” Bell said.

Hale, who has been Galveston's chief of police since January 2018, told the Daily News his department has "to be aware of the images we portray."

“We talk about it when we talk about use of force, when we talk about vehicle pursuits," Hale told the newspaper. "Quite frankly, I never would have dreamed of it in the context of mounted officers.”

Neely, who is free on bond, was unavailable for comment, the Daily News reported.