Videotaped incident shocked the world, including former mounted police officer Beth Clifton of ANIMALS 24-7
GALVESTON, Texas––Donald Neely, 43, a homeless black man with acknowledged mental health issues, who was on August 3, 2019 handcuffed by two mounted police officers, clipped to a rope with a noose at the other end, and led eight blocks through downtown Galveston, has sued the city, seeking $1 million in damages for personal injury, emotional stress, and mental anguish.
The lawsuit, filed by Houston attorney Julie Ketterman in Galveston County district court during the second week of October 2020, alleges that the police officers’ conduct was “extreme and outrageous.”
The lawsuit further contends that a charge of criminal trespass against Neely, which was the reason for his arrest, but was later dropped, was “malicious prosecution.”
The arresting officers themselves had questioned the necessity of the arrest, which their videotaped conversation indicated was on orders from unnamed “higher ups.”
Continues the lawsuit, “Neely suffered from handcuff abrasions, suffered from the heat, and suffered from embarrassment, humiliation and fear as he was led by rope and mounted officers down the city street.”
Galveston police officers Patrick Brosch and Amanda Smith, the lawsuit says, should have known that Neely, “being led with a rope and by mounted officers down a city street as though he was a slave, would find this contact offensive.
“Felt as though he was put on display as slaves once were”
“Neely felt as though he was put on display as slaves once were,” the lawsuit continues. “He suffered from fear because one of the horses was acting dangerously, putting Neely in fear of being dragged down the street by a runaway horse.”
Mounted police officers Brosch and Smith were both wearing body cameras throughout the incident, which occurred almost at the end of their shifts.
The Galveston Police Department released both videos to media in October 2019.
The Brosch video begins with Brosch asking Smith if she should go get their truck, which had the police department horse trailer attached, and was in a parking lot they believed was five blocks away, to avoid having to make Neely walk to meet another police vehicle.
“I’m glad you’re not embarrassed, Mr. Neely”
Smith responded their sergeant would not approve of the officers separating with a suspect in custody.
Brosch then said, twice, “This is gonna look really bad. This is gonna look so bad,” adding, “I’m glad you’re not embarrassed, Mr. Neely.”
Officers Brosch and Smith accommodated Neely, who had been sleeping when the incident started, when he asked to change his shirt before setting out.
Brosch and Smith maintained conversation with Neely as they led him to the parking lot, explaining to him that sleeping in buildings he had been warned away from just kept getting him into trouble.
Apparently Neely’s habit of wearing a welding mask when he slept particularly unnerved passers-by and people who worked in the buildings. This had led to repeated previous complaints, including from one of the building landlords.
Reported Associated Press, “At one point, Neely, wearing a welding mask he had asked Brosch to place on his head, apparently had trouble seeing because of the mask. The mask was one of several personal belongings Neely had asked to bring with him.”
Brosch took off the welding mask.
“I’m going to drag you”
“We’re walking. Let’s go. Stand next to me because I’m going to drag you if not. You have to stand next to me,” Smith then told Neely.
Brosch suggested to Smith that they should take a route with less traffic.
Replied Smith, “Yeah, I want the less eyesight.”
“In Brosch’s video,” Associated Press recounted, “Neely can be seen standing in the parking lot for more than 10 minutes until a third officer arrived and loaded him into a vehicle.”
According to Galveston Daily News reporter John Wayne Ferguson, Neely “was sleeping on a sidewalk under an awning,” behind the Heidenheimer-Hunter Building, at 306 22nd Street in Galveston, when Brosch and Smith encountered him.
Named a Texas Historic Landmark in 1987, the Heidenheimer-Hunter Building currently houses a Merrill Lynch Financial Services office.
Officers not charged
“A criminal review of Neely’s arrest, conducted by the Texas Rangers, resulted in no charges being filed against the officers,” Ferguson summarized. “The city refused to release documents from a policy review of the arrest conducted by the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.
“State law prohibits public disclosure of information about officer misconduct and discipline, the city said in a letter to the Texas Attorney General’s Office challenging an information request filed by The Daily News,” Ferguson explained. “The attorney general sided with the city.
“The attorney general’s ruling notes the officers involved in Neely’s arrest were not disciplined by the department,” Ferguson continued. “The technique used to transport Neely was in accordance with the training officers had received, officials said.
“At the time of Neely’s arrest, however, the department still was developing policies for mounted officers patrolling city streets,” Ferguson added.
No more downtown mounted patrols
“The department had previously used mounted officers only during large crowd events such as Mardi Gras. The mounted downtown patrol was discontinued after Neely’s arrest,” Ferguson finished.
Ketterman, who appears to handle mostly family law cases, reportedly took over the Neely case in March 2020. Neely and his family were initially represented by civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who also organized a protest march in Galveston after the incident.
Several witnesses videotaped the scene as Neely was led by the mounted officers. Some of the video aired on local television two days later, on the evening of August 5, 2019, evoking immediate shock and outrage from viewers.
Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale III
Responded Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale III, who is himself a black man, “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,” Hale said, “I believe our officers showed poor judgement in this instance and could have waited for a transport unit at the location of the arrest.”
Vernon Hale III has headed the Galveston Police Department since January 1, 2017. He previously served 25 years with the Dallas Police Department, and declined a promotion to head the Dallas police tactical unit in order to take the Galveston job.
“Undoes everything a mounted unit is supposed to stand for”
ANIMALS 24-7 editor, photographer, collage artist, and researcher Beth Clifton, a former Miami Beach mounted police officer, challenged Hale’s contention that “this is a trained technique and best practice.”
Her unit was never taught, or practiced, any such tactic, and would have been warned away from it, Beth Clifton said.
“The primary job of a mounted police unit is to improve public relations,” Beth Clifton explained. “A mounted police officer should be a friendly authoritative presence. Dragging a suspect on a rope undoes everything a mounted unit is supposed to stand for.
“It is also extremely dangerous,” Beth Clifton pointed out. “Anything could have spooked those horses, and then the man [Neely] might have been dragged, or kicked in the head, or both. The officers could have fallen. The horses could have been tripped by the rope and been injured.”
(For more extensive comments from Beth Clifton and others, and a review of the history of mounted policing, please see also Galveston mock lynching may hasten police horse era to an end.)