GALVESTON

Police Chief Vernon Hale faced hundreds of angry island residents Tuesday night and took responsibility for events that led to Donald Neely being arrested and led with a rope along city streets between two mounted police officers.

“I didn’t have the foresight to see that I didn’t have all of the proper controls in place,” Hale said.

He was speaking at a town hall meeting organized by the Galveston Chapter of the NAACP a day after images of Neely’s arrest by officers P. Brosch and A. Smith had already circled the globe and drawn widespread condemnation of the city and its police force.

The crowd at the meeting called on Hale, who is black, to answer questions about Neely’s arrest and to explain what he planned to do about it.

Hale had apologized Monday for the way Neely had been treated, calling it an “unnecessary embarrassment,” and suspended the practice of using horses and ropes to escort arrestees.

He did not condemn the two officers who arrested Neely, although he did say they used poor judgment.

“They want people to understand they were using the tools they were provided,” Hale said

The officers had used an accepted method of extracting people from large, dense crowds with horses, Hale said Monday.

The two officers were not at Tuesday’s meeting, but Hale said they remained on duty as the incident was being investigated.

Some in the crowd on Tuesday night called for the officers to be fired, while others called on Hale to release body camera footage of the incident for public review.

Hale said any discipline, and any release of the video, would have to wait until the incident could be fully reviewed.

Hale’s statements soothed some concerns, but left others lingering.

“I think there’s a lot of things that he said that were important,” Torrina Harris, of Galveston, said.

“It’s hard to not be frustrated in these situations because there’s a lot of being understanding of his role and his responsibilities, but also there’s an immense dissatisfaction with the things he’s not able to answer, like what is going to happen to the officers?”

Harris said she trusted that Hale would fully investigate the incident. But she didn’t trust the department would respond by firing the officers.

“I don’t know if this is the best profession for their current skill set,” she said.

WORLDWIDE ATTENTION

The image of Neely being led by mounted police officers along a downtown street spread around the world Tuesday.

The Galveston Police Department arrested Neely, 43, Saturday and charged him with criminal trespassing at a downtown building.

Neely was handcuffed and connected to a line held by a mounted Galveston Police Department officer, police said. The officers walked Neely through city streets to a staging area where he was picked up by a police car.

The scene was photographed by at least three people and the first images of it were posted on local social media pages Monday.

The officers’ action struck some people as racist and they likened the photographs to historic images of slavery.

News articles about it appeared Tuesday in The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Daily Mail, a tabloid newspaper in the United Kingdom, splashed the image across its website under the headline “Dopes and a Rope.”

It also reached the attention of people running for the highest office in the country.

Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat running to be the Democratic candidate for president, tweeted about the incident, calling it “racism at work.”

“This moment demands accountability, justice, and honestly [sic],” O’Rourke wrote.

While Hale apologized and announced changes to the department’s policies on Monday, condemnation continued to pour in throughout Tuesday.

The Anti-Defamation League called for an investigation into the incident and into the police department’s policies and practices.

“Trust and legitimacy are vital to law enforcement’s ability to serve those they are sworn to protect,” said Gail Glasser, the group’s interim southwest regional director. “Offensive actions like this undermine both of these tenets.”

In a series of tweets, the American Civil Liberties Union said the images of the incident carried references to two historical themes: “The terror of vigilante violence against black people and the use of state authority to enforce that terror.”

MORE INFORMATION

Hale and the police department provided more information about Neely’s arrest Tuesday, including information about how far he was led through the streets.

The department Monday said Neely had been arrested at 306 22nd St. and was taken to a staging area near the intersection of 21st and Market streets, about two city blocks away.

The photos of Neely’s arrest clearly show that he was taken to the corner of 23rd Street and Church Street, about four blocks away from the 22nd Street address.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, Hale said Neely was arrested at Church Street and taken to 21st Street.

The department has not explained the discrepancies in those accounts.

On Tuesday afternoon, a short video of the incident emerged, again on Facebook, along with a claim that officers put a bag over Neely’s head while walking with him.

A police department spokesman said that was inaccurate, and the video showed the officer removing a welder’s mask that Neely had been wearing when he was arrested.

FAMILY SPEAKS OUT

Late on Tuesday afternoon, an attorney representing Neely’s family provided more information about the man at the center of the controversy.

Neely, whose family resides on the mainland, has lived in Galveston for five years, said attorney Melissa Morris. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had been living on the streets, she said.

After the news of his arrest first broke, the family attempted to find Neely and bring him back home, she said. He refused to leave the island, she said.

“He doesn’t feel violated and so at this point we don’t know what the next steps are,” Morris said.

Still, Morris said Neely’s family was upset by the way he was treated and did not accept Hale’s apology.

The family wants the police officers fired, she said.

“They are very, very appreciative of all the attention and all of the concern,” Morris said. “It was embarrassing for their brother. They were sad that the police would employ such a tactic to humiliate him or to try to humiliate him.”

GALVESTON CITY COUNCIL REACTS

Local elected leaders reached on Tuesday said they were disturbed by Neely’s arrest and expected more answers from the police department about the incident in coming days, while adding that they didn’t think it was indicative of how the city’s police department treats black people.

“It’s inexcusable, there’s no justification for it,” Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough said. “It’s certainly more serious than just an embarrassment.”

Yarbrough said there should be accountability from the department in some form. He said the city might need to “re-evaluate” the police department’s equestrian program.

The mounted patrol unit has been a topic in recent contract negotiations between the city management and the Galveston Municipal Police Association. The association has asked the city to supply more funding and equipment for the mounted officers, officials said.

District 1 Councilwoman Amy Bly said she was in disbelief after seeing photos of the arrest.

Bly wanted to ensure there was an investigation to understand what happened, she said.

The officers should be allowed to explain their actions, Bly said.

“Somebody needs to talk to them and to hear what the story is,” she said.

District 2 Councilman Craig Brown said the city “can’t condone” the decision made by the police officers.

“It looked like it was the wrong judgment at the wrong time,” Brown said.

District 3 Councilman David Collins, who represents the city’s downtown, described Neely’s arrest as thoughtless.

“It is a very unfortunate incident,” Collins said. “It doesn’t matter what the legal procedure is. I think everybody involved should have understood it was bad optics.”

The Galveston City Council does not make personnel decisions. Under civil service laws, it is up to Hale to decide whether and how officers should be punished.

The police department has so far only identified the officers by their first initials and last name.

But council members noted that they are responsible for evaluating City Manager Brian Maxwell, who is Hale’s direct supervisor, and would review Maxwell’s and Hale’s decisions closely.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(18) comments

Doug Sivyer

Way to go Galveston! The idiocy of this incident has cast a racist cloud over our city and state. Maybe it is deserved! Still a bunch of "good ole boy" mentality around.

David Schuler

Racism is a disease of the mind and we need to understand what the officers were thinking as this was taking place. Where they happy to be recreating a scene from GWTW? If so, that's disgusting and demeaning and all those other colorful phrases seen across the social media spectrum. If, on the other hand, they were uncomfortable with the scenario but didn't know a better way to solve the problem, that's a retraining and education issue. But to call for their firing before knowing means we've right back to the Salem Witch Trials.

Emile Pope

Really? And exactly how are we supposed to know what they were thinking at the time or their motivation? Interesting how you make the first motivation so absolutely ridiculous that no one would ever admit to it. Are those the only two reasons available?

David Schuler

In the US as we know it, innocent until proven guilty is still the law of the land. To presume active racism without evidence -because that is what you expect - is pure speculation. Maybe you would prefer to have all those accused of racism presumed guilty until proven innocent?

Carlos Ponce

Emile asks, "And exactly how are we supposed to know what they were thinking at the time or their motivation? "One cannot go by thoughts unless one claim to be a mind reader. One can go by what is said and how one acts. The mounted patrol had radios and body cams.

LJ ODom

How many newspapers have you sold running this story GDN? From what was read on other media posts the guy was not just trespassing but was allegedly throwing feces at people. Would be nice if you covered stories about the mentally ill and real perils faced by them. You’ve made a mountain out of a mole hill and managed to cast a false narrative out about Galveston. Do you have any employees that do not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance? Ride with police officers and you’ll have your blindfolds removed. No, you just stir that pot to sell your papers. Don’t bother sending me a renewal notice.

Charles Douglas

I think we as a people who are suppose to be able to reason should take a moment here and think. Those officers, as insensitive as their actions were, did what was in their manual of operations and protocol. We don't know what they were thinking because we are not as smart as God, who knows what everybody is thinking! Now what those officers did was in their manual of operations!!! So what , we are going to fire them for that? If they were teachers and made a mistake of a similar nature ...would you fire them? Pipefitters, would you fire them? How about electricians, ...if they were two electricians, and made a move prescribed by proper procedures and somebody raised a concern, would you fire the electricians, or try to fix the process? I see everybody from the head of the city to JOE SMUCK, trying to throw these officers in the lion pit! It is not Right! These people put their lives on the line for their communities every dam day!

Now, instead of fixing the process, we want to take their livelihoods away for something that should have not been in their procedures. This whole country is being attacked by the enemy, and now that truth has taken a front perch in Galveston, Texas. Matthew 12:25 says "....no city or house divided against itself will last or continue to stand!" Chief Bates, stand by your people, Mayor Yarbrough, the eyes of the world is watching how this thing will be handled!!!! I've been profiled, cursed at, discriminated against, passed over for promotion, and made to walk through doors marked FOR COLORED ONLY!!!! So if there is a reason to be bitter ....brother, I have earned at least one, but forgiveness and love will always defeat HATE, and they will never fail. Firing these officer would be wrong and many people knows that! Fix the process, train all officers, and let's move on. If things we're that BAD in Galveston, Chief Bates would not be running the department, nor Chief Kenny Mack before him!

Charles Douglas

Sorry Chief Hale, ..I referred to you as chief Bates in my prior post. Sorry...

Dan Freeman

We need to begin by acknowledging that Donald Neely is a troubled individual who needs mental health care rather than incarceration. Unfortunately, that is not likely given the state of funding for mental health in Texas. Next officers P. Brosch and A. Smith were following an existing protocol, so should not be disciplined for doing their job. Finally, we Galvestonians are fortunate to have Police Chief Vernon Hale who is willing to take responsibility for events on his watch.



What should we learn from this? I think we need to acknowledge that while this was not an intended racist interaction, it had an appearance that derived from our culture. I would argue it is an explicit example of “aversive racism,” which is when the culture infects the unconscious evaluation of racial or ethnic minorities. Perhaps all city employees, including police, health officials and fire fighters, should be given training to diminish this form of racism in their interactions with the public.

Bailey Jones

One takeaway of this story is simply that once you make a post on a public Facebook page, it's no longer yours. You can't control where it will go or who will latch on to it or for what purpose. It's been a real education watching this thing explode.

Emile Pope

Which was a good thing to happen...

D. G. Williams

No racism involved. Stop judging every incident by the color of one's skin. If you were not there, you don't what precipitated this event. I support the Galveston Police Department. Walking the mean streets is tough work.

Craig Mason

Excellent points made by all and the fact that folks are having these conversations is good. I have even re-examined how I look at different things and try to look through the lenses of others before forming an opinion. I think everyone agrees this procedure is not a good one and the image this portrays is also not good. I think where folks diverge is where you have to decide was this racism or a poor decision. I think the latter, but that is my opinion. I also would ask you to think about this. If Mr. Neely was not a man of color how would we feel about this photo? I for one would still think it was a bad decision and a bad procedure. So my view wouldn’t change much. I agree with Mr. Douglas you wouldn’t fire an electrician for following a bad procedure, you would fix the problem and move on.

Tamala Robinson

Sometimes we can't just look at policy and think we can do this because it is in policy and I will be legally protected. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves is it morally right to do this? Would I want this to happen to me? Is there another course of action that I can take? True, we can't say what these officers were thinking. We can't say they were being racist either. We can all agree that good sound judgment was NOT made by either of them. I don't agree that they should lose their jobs. I do agree that more training should be available. I think every officer should go through Diversity and Inclusion training, Dealing with and managing people with mental impairment training and communication training. After each officer receives the training it should be noted in their evaluations and from that day forward they should be held accountable for their adverse actions. I am African American and I believe this incident has made all of us more aware of what is needed as for a police officers and citizens respecting each other on both ends of the spectrum. Police Officers are hired as Peace Officers and we have to respect the law, but the law has to respect its citizens as well and still uphold the law in a manner that brings dignity to the badge and judicial system. We do not need a world of socialism and I for one still want Law and Order and when it is not order, police have a job to do in the most proficient way possible.

Charles Douglas

Tamala Robinson should consider doing that congressional thing. She sounds bi-partisan on issues. That's the way is use to be in DC years ago. No more though! It is our way or the highway! Nothing but gridlock there now!

Raylene Morgan

Hale should be fired, as a Black man in AmeriKKKa and the Chief of police for not condemning those racist white cops (they're not true Police officers). He definitely demonstrated being a "yes-man". This was a black man publicly humiliated, who could have been detained until a patrol car came for transport. Clearly they got a kick out of doing this and are clearly racist! They would not have done this to a white man. They not only should be fired, but brought up on and convicted of civil and criminal charges!

Carlos Ponce

"Clearly they got a kick out of doing this and are clearly racist! They would not have done this to a white man." WRONG! No hint of racism and GPD HAS handled WHITE men in the same exact fashion. No use in confronting Raylene with FACTS. I cannot fix stupid. I can only fix ignorance - or try to.

Carlos Ponce

Donald Neely isn’t bothered or offended by what happened, his sister [Taranette] said.

“He said [the officers] treated him nice, he didn’t have any issues with them," Taranette said. "They were real nice.”

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