HOUSTON — Jurors deciding whether Galveston police officers violated the civil rights of 12 people at an island resort in 2008 issued a “cry for help” at the Houston federal courthouse Thursday, their eighth day of deliberation.
A note sent from the jury seemed to indicate jurors had unanimously agreed to answer “yes” to at least one question addressing the alleged brutality by Galveston police, and have moved on to deliberate an alleged “governmental custom” of excessive force by the Galveston Police Department.
Jurors were instructed to only continue to questions concerning the governmental custom if they found that a Galveston police officer used excessive force in at least one instance.
About 40 yes-or-no questions included at the beginning of a 13-page verdict form address specific instances of alleged brutality by an individual officer against one of the 12 people now suing the city and 10 members of the Galveston Police Department.
A “yes” answer to any of those questions requires jurors to move on to questions addressing governmental custom and whether the city of Galveston is liable for any of the alleged wrongdoing by island police officers.
Of the 12 plaintiffs claiming they were beaten and abused by police, former Houston Astros pitcher Brandon Backe alone is seeking up to $15 million in damages.
In its note, the jury asked for clarification on former Police Chief Charles Wiley’s role as a policymaker for the city, and on the role of a “governing body.”
Jury instructions state that “for the purposes of this case” Wiley is the policymaker of the city of Galveston.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison approved a note instructing jurors on Wiley’s role as a policymaker. For the city of Galveston to be liable, Wiley would need to have actual knowledge of a custom of using excessive force, according to jury instructions.
“We have to confront the fact the jury has been struggling for over two weeks to reach a verdict,” Ellison said.
“When they issue a cry for help, we have to be as responsive as possible.”
Deliberations are scheduled to continue Monday.