HOUSTON — Former Houston Astros player Brandon Backe testified Tuesday in Houston’s federal court, about a mile from the team’s Opening Day celebration at Minute Maid Park.

The visibly emotional pitcher recalled the end of his professional baseball career and claimed his retirement in 2009 was forced by a shoulder injury he suffered at the hands of Galveston police officers less than a year earlier.

Backe, an island native who was a star player at Ball High School and Galveston College before entering the Major League Baseball draft, is among 12 men suing the city and some of the more than 30 police officers involved in an incident at The San Luis Resort’s H20 bar in October 2008, hours after a wedding.

Backe, a groomsman at the wedding, said he was at the bar with his wife, members of the wedding party and other guests shortly after the reception.

When Backe and most of the guests at the bar heard a commotion, they walked just outside the bar to see the bride’s handcuffed brother bloody and lying on the ground with Taser wires sticking out of his back.

When one of the officers standing near Cole O’Balle used profanity and asked Backe to back away, the then-professional baseball player said he put his hands in the air and asked the officer to “chill out.”

Backe said he was unable to back away because a crowd was behind him and told the officer as much. The officer grabbed Backe’s chest and shoved him against a wall before throwing him to the ground, Backe said.

He said a group of three to four officers “jumped on me,” kicking and beating him. Backe said he never resisted and never took any aggressive action toward the officers, before or after he was detained.

Backe was driven to the police station by an officer he said took “violent turns” to throw Backe and another man about the police car and was released about six hours later.

Backe said he went to Mainland Medical Center that day to have wounds to his face and head examined but didn’t complain about a shoulder injury until months later, when spring training for the 2009 season was getting underway.

He said he was not initially forthright about his shoulder injury because he at first didn’t think it was serious, and Backe referred to a common view among professional players that some injuries can be played through.

Backe and the jury were shown highlights of Backe pitching in Game 5 of the 2004 National League Championship Series and Game 4 of the 2005 World Series, where he had seven strikeouts and allowed five hits.

In 2006, Backe underwent elbow surgery. In 2008, Backe’s first full season back, he was statistically one of the worst starting pitchers in the league, going 9-14 in a career-high 31 starts with a 6.05 ERA.

In 2009, Backe made only eight appearances before being released by the Astros.

Former Houston Astros manager Phil Garner testified Tuesday that a pitcher recovering from the “Tommy John” surgery Backe underwent would require two years to recover fully, and Backe said he fully expected to make a comeback in 2009.

Backe, who said he underwent two surgeries months after the alleged brutality in 2008 and had several pieces of bone fragment removed from his shoulder, contended that Galveston police officers were responsible for the end of his career in professional baseball.

He was released from the Houston Astros in 2009. Backe had expected lucrative contract opportunities in free agency before the surgeries to his shoulder, but said he was forced to quit playing professionally.

“I was sick of the pain I had to deal with,” he said. “I was tired of taking medicine. It just came to a breaking point where I basically knew I was done.”

Attorney William Helfand, who is representing the city and the accused officers, has argued that Backe’s shoulder injury was likely caused by a strenuous pitching career or another factor, rather than the use of force by Galveston police. He has also contended that Backe did not attribute his shoulder injury to the officers until 2010, when Backe filed a lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages from the city.

Under cross-examination by Helfand, who told Backe he had been in attendance at Minute Maid Park in 2005 for Game 4 of the World Series against the Chicago White Sox, Backe said the injury had taken time to manifest itself.

A tearful Backe said he now struggles to perform tasks such as buckling a seat belt or grabbing a milk jug out of the refrigerator.

Backe played his final game as a professional baseball player in 2009 in Arlington. He said his last time on the mound came years before it should have.

“I think that’s what every baseball player, professional athlete, wants — is just be able to hang them up yourself, and not have somebody hang them up for you,” he said.

Backe is expected to continue testifying today.

Contact reporter Alex Macon at 409-683-5241 or alex.macon@galvnews.com.

(11) comments

Don Ciaccio

How many time is GPD going to get away with police brutality? It's been going on for decades.

Chris Gimenez

Don, if the GPD wants your opinion they'll tase, stomp, and beat it out of you. Until then, keep that pie-hole zipped and don't make any furtive movements.

Mike Meador

I wonder if Backe gets back on the golf course?

Dwight Strain

World series highlights shown in court? Phil Garner testifying? Can't pick up a milk jug or buckle a seatbelt? Theatrics..

George Croix

Exaggeration is just deception by another name...

LV1951
Linda Vaccaro

Backe was on his way out before all this happened! Wah-Wah-Wah! [crying]

Chris Gimenez

I don't think whether he had a viable future career in baseball is going to play into the jury's consideration of whether the GPD acted inappropriately.

Terry Moore

Is there proof to "Backe" this testimony? We all know he wasn't doing well in his career before this happened. I know I am not there to hear both sides and am not on either side at this point but I.M.O. when you hear "BS" you know it's "BS"!

MG Tex

Sad that we live in a society where we think it is alright to publicly denigrate professional athletes. Professional athletes work their entire career and achieve success 99.9% of society will never sniff ... Yet, have a poor year and you hear it from the beer league little league has-beens like crazy.

Who knows the real truth, but why hurl insults at the guy ... HAs he ever done anything to you or anybody you know? I assume not. If you are that filled with envy and hate, then I thinks it is YOU with the "wah wah wah" issues.

Next time you or your family is mishandled in your view, and you try to make it right, how about if we insult you because you were an awful accountant before your brains were beaten in ... ??

Look, Im not on the Backe for the Hall of Fame wagon, but come ON folks, are we that cruel of a society???

RonShelby
Ron Shelby

I wish someone had used their cell phone to record the original arrest. I really hate it when stories fail to report both sides testimony point of view. It runs the risk that this story sinks in ( that he just tossed his hands in the air, backed up and didn't antagonize the police in the process of performing their duties) which really sounds a bit hard to believe. Some thing more must have gone on.

Chris Gimenez

" I really hate it when stories fail to report both sides testimony point of view."

I'm pretty sure that's what's happening now in federal court in Houston. It's not getting tried in the papers where editors decide what they want the public to know.

" Some thing more must have gone on." No doubt you're right about that. I mean, you were spot on in your assessment of the Matranga/Gist trial.[beam]

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