Police brutality lawsuit at H2O heads to federal court

A lawsuit accusing Galveston police officers of brutality at a 2008 wedding reception will go to trial in federal in Houston on March 24. Cole O'Balle's head injuries are show in the aftermath of the incident at the H2O bar in Galveston at a 2008 wedding reception.

Courtesy file photo

GALVESTON — A lawsuit accusing Galveston police officers of brutality at a 2008 wedding reception will go to trial in federal court later this month.

Judge Keith Ellison, of the U.S. Southern District Court in Houston, denied, in part, a request for a summary judgment from the city of Galveston last week.

The judge ruled that the city is entitled to summary judgment on the lawsuit’s claim that Galveston failed to properly train officers to use appropriate force.

In a separate order denying parts of a summary judgment requested by officers named in the lawsuit, Ellison wrote that “the factual disputes in this case are (many),” and a jury trial was necessary to separate fact from fiction.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2010 by former Houston Astros pitcher Brandon Backe and 11 others who claim they were beaten by police, names the city and close to a dozen police officers as defendants.

The lawsuit claims that about 20 officers “participated in a vicious attack on the wedding party,” which was held less than a month after Hurricane Ike on Oct. 4, 2008.

The 12 plaintiffs in the lawsuit attended a wedding reception at the Galveston Island Convention Center, and many of the guests visited the H20 bar at The San Luis Resort afterward.

The lawsuit claims that Cole O’Balle, then a minor, was confronted by police near the bar.

Police accused O’Balle of being belligerent and intoxicated, and members of the wedding party approached the officer who was questioning O’Balle.

The officer then called for backup, and a large group of police proceeded to use excessive force against the dozen plaintiffs, including Backe, according to the lawsuit.

Officers indiscriminately beat and handcuffed the plaintiffs, and used Taser weapons, pepper spray and batons, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit argues that there was a “municipal custom of using excessive force” that permitted the police brutality.

The Chief of Police at the time, Charles Wiley, and then-City Manager Steve LeBlanc are no longer employed by the city.

The case is set to go to trial in Houston on March 24.

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

(2) comments

Lars Faltskog

Trial in Houston. That leaves us Galveston county folks from becoming potential jurors. Is having the trial in Houston part of getting a fair and impartial pool of jurors? Or, is it in Houston because most of the defendants are from Harris county, not Galveston? Might be a combination of fair/impartial and Houston residency status.

Don Ciaccio

Justice may finally be served in this clear case of police brutality.

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