The city has 30 days to release body camera recordings of Donald Neely’s arrest or else activists will plan a large march through the city’s streets, his attorneys said Monday.
In a press conference attended by Neely’s family, attorneys Benjamin Crump and Melissa Morris announced they had filed a public records request with the city for the release of the body camera recordings.
The tapes can definitively show whether the two Galveston Police Department officers who arrested Neely on 23rd Street on Aug. 3 had acted inappropriately, he said.
“If these officers are good people of good character, then the Galveston Police Department should have no problem releasing the police body cam video,” Crump said.
Neely did not attend the press conference.
In a statement sent after the press conference, the city said the body camera footage would be released after investigations into Neely’s arrest are completed by the Texas Rangers and the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.
“This review is now with those agencies and we have full confidence they will thoroughly and justly evaluate the incident,” city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said. “We anticipate the body camera footage will be released after the investigations are concluded.”
If the city doesn’t release the video, a coalition of civil rights and mental health advocacy groups would hold a march in Galveston on Sept. 15, Crump said.
Two mounted police officers arrested Neely, 43, for trespassing outside the Galveston Park Board of Trustees building, at 601 23rd St.
During his arrest, Neely, who is black, was handcuffed and attached to a lead, and then walked between the officers’ two horses to a staging area about four blocks, or 400 yards, from where he was arrested.
Passersby took pictures and video of Neely’s arrest. After being posted on social media last week, the photos drew worldwide attention to Galveston and its police department.
Critics have called the way Neely was treated racist, and compared the images of his arrest to historic images of slavery. Other people have questioned whether the officers were properly trained to interact with a person with a mental illness.
Neely is homeless and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, his attorney said. He also experiences schizophrenic tendencies, Morris said.
Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale apologized for causing Neely “unnecessary embarrassment” and said his officers used poor judgment while arresting him.
The police officers’ actions are now under investigation by the Texas Rangers and the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, which will determine whether any laws or administrative policies were violated during Neely’s arrest.
The Daily News and others have independently requested copies of the body camera recordings of Neely’s arrest. As of Monday afternoon, the city had not responded to the News’ request.
City officials have reviewed the body camera footage, but have not publicly described what it shows.
A witness last week told The Daily News one of the officers told Neely “If you don’t keep walking, I’m going to drag you.”
When given the opportunity to deny the officer made that statement, the city said the arrest was being reviewed by the outside agencies and that “one statement must be evaluated within the context of the entire encounter.”
Public agencies generally have 10 business days after a public records request is made to decide whether to release a public document, or challenge the release by appealing to the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
Although some people have raised the possibility of a lawsuit against the city over Neely’s treatment, Crump and Morris both said no civil lawsuit had been filed as of Monday.
The family’s intent was not to get a payout from the city, Neely’s sister said.
“We love our brother,” Taranette Neely said. “We’re not out here for money. We just want justice for him.”
Taranette Neely said her family had tried to take Donald Neely home before, but that he refused to leave the island. He’s been arrested seven times for trespassing this year, according to court records. Six of those times, including the most recent one, were at the same building.
Crump is originally from Florida, but has an office in Houston. Morris is a candidate for a state Senate seat in Houston. On Monday, she said she also was a longtime friend of Neely’s sister-in-law, which is how she became involved in Neely’s case.
Also appearing at the press conference was Sam Collins, a community leader, and Erin Toberman, the former organizer of The Galveston Kindness Project and the person who first posted photographs of Neely’s arrest on social media.
The attorneys also were joined by the families of Pamela Turner, a black woman who was shot and killed by police in Baytown in May, and of Danny Ray Thomas, a black man who was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy in Harris County in 2018.
In both case, the families said police did not do enough to help people going through mental health crises.
The announcement of plans for a potential protest in Galveston stand in contrast to the way some local groups have reacted to Neely’s arrest.
On Aug. 5, hours after the first photographs of Neely’s arrest, the Galveston chapter of the NAACP said it fully supported Hale and trusted him to handle the investigation into the incident. The NAACP held a community meeting with Hale on Aug. 6.
The differences in reaction could be because of local groups’ familiarity with Hale since he took over as police chief in January 2018, said E.R. Johnson, the pastor of Galveston’s Avenue L Baptist Church.
As a practice, Hale regularly meets with local faith leaders to talk about issues in the community, including incidents between the officers and residents.
“Protests have their place, but mostly we need to make sure we address the issues,” Johnson said. “Protests have their appeal to a certain group of individuals, to bring awareness to the issue at hand. But also we need to sit down at the table.”