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Rangers, sheriff's office to investigate Neely arrest

GALVESTON

The city has asked outside agencies to investigate the Saturday arrest of Donald Neely, who was handcuffed, attached to a rope and led along a downtown street by two officers on horseback.

Mayor Jim Yarbrough announced the outside investigation during a special city council meeting Thursday.

City Manager Brian Maxwell had recommended the outside investigation and Police Chief Vernon Hale had agreed to it, according to the city.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office would conduct the investigation.

“This is such a polarizing event that it’s imperative that we have an independent, third-party investigation to ensure we address any potential issues,” Maxwell said.

The agencies will perform a “full administrative review of the department’s policies and practices as they relate to the arrest,” the city said.

The city said it would release “pertinent findings” when the investigation is completed.

The investigation would produce a written report, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

The Texas Rangers, the criminal investigative arm of the Department of Public Safety, would conduct a criminal investigation into the arrest and determine whether there had been any criminal violations, Barnett said.

The sheriff’s office is reviewing the police department’s arrest practices and policies, and will determine whether city police officers violated any of those rules, she said.

Melissa Morris, an attorney representing Neely, said she welcomed some of the city’s announcements.

“I welcome the Texas Rangers being involved,” Morris said. “I think that’s a good plan.”

She questioned whether the county sheriff’s office would be impartial in investigating the city’s officers, however, she said.

“I think that this might be an effort to quell it, without actually having to address it and fire these officers,” Morris said.

Neely’s arrest has sparked international controversy and criticism of the Galveston Police Department. Photographs of Neely, who is black, being walked down the street between the two white mounted officers has drawn comparisons to historical images of slavery.

Thursday’s meeting was the first council meeting since Neely’s arrest. Yarbrough used the meeting to make his feelings about the arrest, and reactions to it, known.

“I was shocked,” Yarbrough said. “How could this happen? How could this happen in Galveston?”

He and other city council members have received numerous calls and messages about the incident from Galvestonians and from around the world, he said.

Neely was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing Saturday at the Galveston Park Board of Trustees’ headquarters, 601 23rd St., according to a police report released Wednesday.

The officers acted on a standing order to arrest Neely if he was seen on the property. Neely had been arrested several times this year for trespassing at the same address.

Officers Patrick Brosch and Amanda Smith handcuffed Neely and attached him to a line, leading him to the intersection of 21st and Market streets, according to the police report.

The officers had called for a vehicle to transport Neely, but didn’t know how long they would be waiting and decided to lead him to a staging area, according to the report.

Hale on Monday apologized for causing Neely “unnecessary embarrassment” and said the officers should have waited for a vehicle.

The officers are still on duty as the incident is being investigated. Neely was released hours after the arrest, officials said.

This event is an example of the power of perception, Yarbrough said Thursday.

“Galveston has a rich 180-year history and while we’ve not always been perfect, our history has always been one of compassion, one of culture and ethnic diversity,” Yarbrough said.

Only the chief of police has the authority to discipline officers, Yarbrough said.

The officers followed training procedures for moving people while mounted on a horse, Hale said.

The officers used poor judgment, however, in deciding to move Neely through the streets instead of waiting for a police vehicle to come to them, he said.

The department has suspended the practice of using horses and ropes to escort arrested people.

If that was the practice, it’s time to review all of police policies, Yarbrough said Thursday.

“City management has already begun reviewing all policies that govern the police department,” Yarbrough said.

It is also time for the city to look at how police interact with mentally ill people, District 6 Councilwoman Jackie Cole said.

Neely suffers from bipolar disorder, according to his family.

Providing support to police and other departments for handling people with mental illness could require extra funding, which could mean reducing spending in other areas, Cole said.

Yarbrough said he trusted Hale and that other city administrators were taking appropriate action in response to Neely’s arrest.

“Situations like this remind all of us that our words and our actions are a reflection on our community,” Yarbrough said. “Galveston is better than this.”


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Heat wave sets record high minimum temperature ever

Galveston’s low temperature on Wednesday night was 86 degrees — the highest minimum ever recorded on the island, according to the National Weather Service.

Often, Galveston can boast cooler temperatures than those across the bay thanks to coastal breezes, but not this week.

“Right now the dew point, or the amount of moisture in the air, is really high and doesn’t allow the air temperature to drop down,” said meteorologist Jimmy Fowler of the weather service’s Houston division.

“The moisture in the air late in the day is still trapping energy from the sun,” Fowler said.

In League City, with a slightly lower dew point, the temperature dipped overnight on Wednesday to 79 degrees compared to Galveston’s 86.

But even 86 degrees felt cool compared to Thursday’s high temperatures. On Galveston Island, the mercury rose to 95 by 1 p.m. with a heat index of 117 degrees, warranting an excessive heat warning.

“Basically that means no strenuous outdoor activity, try to drink lots of water and, when you can, stay inside and enjoy the air-conditioning,” Fowler said.

The excessive heat warning applied only to coastal Galveston County, while areas on the mainland were under an excessive heat advisory which means about the same — seek cool and shaded places to avoid overheating.

The county can expect more of the same for as long as the high-pressure system sitting on top of Texas remains lodged in place, likely at least until Monday or Tuesday of next week, said meteorologist Scott Overpeck of the weather service.

“This kind of high-pressure system is pretty typical for this time of year, the first two weeks of August, and it does last for a few days,” Overpeck said. “At least into Monday we’re looking at hot temperatures and the same conditions.”

Island beachgoers shouldn’t necessarily feel safe from overheating just because they can jump in the ocean when they feel like it, Overpeck warned.

“Those Gulf waters are kind of warm so you’re still looking at bath water temperatures and it won’t cool you down much,” he said. “The main thing is stay out of the sun, look for shaded areas if you’re outside, wear light clothing and drink lots of water.”

Temperatures at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston reached 100 degrees for the first time this summer, according to the weather service.

Friday is expected to feel very similar to Thursday in Galveston County with a heat index expected making it feel like 114 degrees on the island and 107 on the mainland.


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Galveston council can't decide who should run parks

GALVESTON

A first look at the draft agreement meant to clarify the city’s relationship with the Park Board of Trustees left council members unclear about which could best manage a popular park.

The document, meant to streamline an agreement almost 50 years old, has led to tension between the city and park board and raised questions about the authority of both.

During about two hours of discussion Thursday, several council members said they needed much more specific information about Seawolf Park, 100 Seawolf Park Blvd., before deciding who could best manage the Pelican Island park and collect about $1 million in revenue it earns each year.

The park board manages Seawolf now, but some in city government want to take over that responsibility.

Thursday was the first time the full council had reviewed the draft interlocal, an agreement between governmental entities.

The draft document states the city and park board will review the management plan of Dellanera RV Park and Seawolf Park, including changes to the management, outsourcing management to a third party and returning the management of the parks to the city.

Unlike other parks the park board manages, Seawolf Park is not a beach park, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

“I have never understood why Seawolf Park was under their domain,” Yarbrough said. “It’s not a beach park.”

Yarbrough said he was frustrated about how the park had been managed and said long-term plans hadn’t been executed. He noted that a pavilion long slated for demolition after being damaged during Hurricane Ike in 2008 was still standing.

“That’s the part that’s frustrating,” Yarbrough said.

But several council members wanted to see more financial information about the park before making a decision, they said.

District 5 Councilman John Paul Listowski asked the city to produce a specific, long-term plan for Seawolf Park.

“That’s where the park board is ahead of us on those assets,” Listowski said. “They’ve got some master plans.”

Many park board trustees and staff members were in the audience during the council’s discussion Thursday.

The park board wants more time to discuss the interlocal directly with city council members, park board Vice Chair Jan Collier said in a statement during the open comment portion of the meeting.

“These changes have unintended consequences that will affect a significant number of public employees,” Collier said. “The board is asking city council to please allow both organizations to have the opportunity to hold a joint meeting before a decision is made.”

The city council is discussing the items because there hasn’t been clear agreement yet, District 3 Councilman David Collins, who also serves on the park board, said.

“This body needs to decide whether we think we can do a better job on any of these things at the city than they can at the park board,” Collins said.

But the council’s discussion didn’t reflect the park board’s ability to financially manage and execute plans for the parks it manages, park board Chairman Spencer Priest said.

“The park board has always been, and will continue to be, happy to provide all accounting to the city, and the public, and are confident in our numerous third party audit findings,” Priest said. “As the managers of these assets, the park board’s feedback in the conversation could have prevented misinformation from being shared.”

The interlocal also proposed a transition plan for Dellanera RV Park, 10901 FM 3005, and several council members said they thought it made sense for the park board to explore having a third-party operate the park.

The city council also discussed several other topics of contention on the draft, including the delineation between where the park board and where the city is tasked with cleaning.

While the city traditionally cleans streets and the park board cleans beaches, the line between those two jurisdictions is still undefined, especially at beach access points.

The city council also discussed the possibility of returning the paid seawall parking program to the city. The park board has run the parking program since 2014, after a year of city management.

The city council plans to again discuss the interlocal during its scheduled Aug. 22 meeting, at which time, members hope to have more specific financial records about Seawolf park and other park board operations.


jenniferreynolds / JENNIFER REYNOLDS/The Daily News/  

An emptied recycling bin sits in the street next to a mailbox on Brookdale Drive in League City on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Some residents are upset with AmeriWaste crews for putting the emptied trash and recycling bins in the street blocking some mailboxes, they said.


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Judge recommends Galveston County provide defense lawyers faster

GALVESTON

A federal magistrate judge has recommended people arrested in Galveston County for felonies be provided with criminal defense attorneys at all initial bail hearings.

The 45-page recommendation, released late Wednesday, by U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison, does not, however, throw out or block other changes the county has made to pretrial systems.

The recommendation, which still must be approved by a federal district court judge, supports a request by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas to decrease the amount of time arrestees go without seeing an attorney.

The civil liberties union sued the county in April 2018 on behalf of Aaron Booth, 37, a Galveston man who was arrested for drug possession and spent 54 days in the county jail because he could not afford bail, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses the county of operating an unconstitutional bail system based on wealth and of violating arrestees’ constitutional rights to an attorney and to due process.

Galveston County officials considers Edison’s decision a victory, although it still requires the county to change some of the ways it treats people accused of crimes.

Most notably, the county will be required to provided all indigent felony arrestees with a defense attorney when that arrestee first appears before a magistrate judge.

That means that people in the Galveston County Jail must be provided with a defense attorney within 12 hours of being booked into the jail.

Currently, the county’s process provides a defense attorney to an arrestee within 24 hours of their arrest.

“To satisfy the Constitution’s basic requirements under the Sixth Amendment, all Galveston County needs to do is provide counsel to indigent defendants at the initial bail hearing, just 12 hours earlier than it currently does,” Edison said. “It is hard to fathom how this could be problematic, given that Galveston County has apparently been able to effectively make counsel available at the bail review hearings held twice daily.”

He recommended that an injunction be placed against the county, requiring officials to provide arrestees with an attorney.

The responsibility of meeting that requirement appears to fall on Galveston’s six state district court judges, who Edison wrote had the “policymaking capacities,” to provide defense attorneys to arrestees.

Judge John Ellisor, the administrative judge for the district court judges, did not immediately respond to a phone call Thursday afternoon.

Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas did not return phone calls or respond to text messages.

The district court judges had filed a motion opposing the need to provide defense attorneys so early in a person’s criminal processing, arguing that magistrate hearings, where bail amounts and other release requirements are decided, were not a “critical stage,” that Constitutionally required an attorney.

Edison disagreed.

“Not only is a bail hearing a ‘critical stage’ in the criminal process, but it is arguably the most ‘critical stage,’” Edison said.

He noted decisions made at bail hearings can affect family relationships, cause serious financial hardships, and the loss of jobs and income, and that the prospect of conviction is greatly increased when a person is jailed between the time of his arrest and trial.

Aside from providing defense attorneys, Edison ruled most of the county’s bail and pretrial systems appear to be Constitutional and denied an injunction requested by the civil liberties union that the system be drastically changed.

“I’m glad that the federal court has recognized that Galveston County has gone to great lengths and spent a lot of money becoming constitutionally compliant,” Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said.

Galveston County has budgeted about $3.5 million in reforms to the county’s jail and bail system since 2016, according to county officials. That figure does not include a $3.1 million purchase of land that the county last week approved to purchase land for an expansion of the county’s justice complex in Galveston.

The expansion will include new offices for a larger personal bond office.


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Willie Nelson comes off tour because of a 'breathing problem'

Willie Nelson has come off his tour because of a “breathing problem.”

Nelson was scheduled to appear at the Grand 1894 Opera House on Nov. 19.

The 86-year-old singer apologized on Twitter late Wednesday, writing “I need to have my doctor check out.” Nelson had just finished performing with Alison Krauss in Toledo, Ohio, and he was next scheduled to appear Friday in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

He wrote “I’ll be back.”

Farm Aid says Nelson will resume his tour Sept. 6.

Nelson will perform at the Farm Aid concert with John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Neil Young and Bonnie Raitt on Sept. 21 in Wisconsin.

Nelson’s tour is scheduled to end Nov. 29 in Thackerville, Oklahoma.

Nelson canceled his appearance at the Outlaw Music Festival due to illness last summer. He also was forced to cancel several dates in 2018.