Mounted police arrest man in Galveston

A man identified as Donald Neely, 43, is led along 23rd Street by two Galveston Police Department officers on Saturday, Aug. 3. Neely appears to be led with a rope. The image, which was shared on local social media pages, drew complaints of racism against the Galveston Police Department.


Photographs of a black man being led with a rope behind two white police officers on horseback drew accusations of racism against the police department Monday.

The photographs were posted and shared on multiple local Facebook pages, including Galveston Island Crime Watch, a page focused on tracking local crime incidents. They were quickly shared hundreds of times Monday afternoon.

The photos show Donald Neely being led down the middle of 23rd Street between two police officers on horseback. Neely appears to have his hands tied behind his back and is being led down the street by a rope held by one of the officers.

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

Galveston’s police chief and city manager said they believed the officers used poor judgment in the situation portrayed in the photograph.

“Although this is a best practice in certain scenarios, I don’t think it was the best practice at this point in time,” Police Chief Vernon Hale said.

One photo was first posted by Erin Toberman, a former Galveston resident known for running the Galveston Kindness Project, a civic engagement effort meant to teach people how to be kind and mindful.

In a phone interview on Monday, Toberman said a friend who lives in Galveston and didn’t want to be identified sent her the photo.

Toberman called leading Neely down the street with a rope a “gross decision” and compared it to a historic drawing of a chattel slave being led behind a man on horseback.

“I find this a poor example of any kind of law enforcement,” Toberman said. “It sends a message that they don’t know how to do their job.”

Toberman called on Hale and City Manager Brian Maxwell to explain the police officers’ actions, and how they would respond to it.

In an interview at city hall, Hale said the officers used bad judgment.

Neely was charged with criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor, Saturday afternoon at 306 22nd St., according to the Galveston Police Department.

It’s unclear whether Neely was detained at the address, or at another location. Toberman said the photo was taken at the intersection of 23rd and Church streets, about six blocks from the address given by the police department.

The two officers had made another arrest not long before arresting Neely, Hale said.

A police unit the officers had called to transport the first man arrested was not available to pick up Neely, so the officers chose to walk Neely to the intersection of 21st and Market streets, where the mounted units were staging, according to the police department.

The officers appeared to use proper techniques in leading Neely while on horseback, but the practice is usually reserved for extracting people from large, dense crowds, Hale said.

“It is a valid training technique for transporting prisoners in the proper scenarios,” Hale said. “In my opinion, quite frankly, I think my guys showed some poor judgment in this scenario. It wasn’t a crowd-control scenario or anything like that. They should have waited on a unit.”

The department has changed its policy to stop using the technique used on Neely, Hale said.

Neely, 43, has a history of arrests dating back to 1994, including six other criminal trespassing arrests this year, according to county court records.

The Daily News was unable to find Neely to attempt an interview. He was not listed as being jailed Monday.

The photos spread quickly after being posted online about 1 p.m. and drew immediate attention from a Galveston civil rights group and a candidate for Congress.

The police department is obligated to explain the officers’ decision-making, said Mary Patrick, president of the Galveston chapter of the NAACP.

“I’m not happy with it, but I’m waiting on additional information,” Patrick said.

Later Monday evening, Patrick contacted The Daily News to say she had spoken to Hale and the police chief had the full support of the NAACP.

Adrienne Bell, who is running for the Democratic nomination for Texas 14th Congressional District, called for “swift action” to ensure the way Neely was arrested would not be repeated.

“It is hard to understand why these officers felt this young man required a leash, as he was handcuffed and walking between two mounted officers,” Bell said.

The city manager’s office and police department had already received several phone calls and messages about the photos by Monday afternoon, Maxwell said.

“While I think most of law enforcement would say if you’re going to have to transport a prisoner while on horseback, they certainly followed what is deemed to be a best practice,” Maxwell said. “I just feel it was not using their best judgment to do it that way.”

The officers involved in the arrest would be counseled about their actions, Hale said. As chief, it is up to Hale to decide on discipline actions against police officers, Maxwell said.

Galveston has a nine-member mounted patrol unit.

The horseback officers are most frequently seen at large city events such as the annual Mardi Gras celebrations, which often involve thousands of rowdy people.

Hale, who became Galveston’s police chief in January 2018, regularly talks to his officers about considering how their actions affect people’s perception of the department, although Monday’s controversy came from an unexpected source, he said.

“You have to be aware of the images we portray,” Hale said. “We talk about it when we talk about use of force, when we talk about vehicle pursuits. Quite frankly, I never would have dreamed of it in the context of mounted officers.”

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.


(41) comments

Craig Mason

Although the picture does not look good, the officers are not violating policy. That should be the end of the story. I think something is being read into this picture that isn’t there. That tether is as much for the prisoners safety as it is for the officers. I am glad the chief changed the policy because the optics are not good, but again I don’t feel like the officers did anything wrong, they were within the boundaries of the former policy.

Emile Pope

Apparently you didn't read the article or you read what you wanted to read into the article. The fact that you somehow think that people should ignore what was done because of some obscure unwritten "policy" shows a lack of compassion and consideration that is not to be admired but pitied...

Craig Mason

Obviously you only read what you wanted to read in my comment. I said twice that the picture did not look good and that the optics were not good. You don't know the police officers intent and from the picture the man in custody does not look like he has been abused in anyway. They immediately changed the policy after this picture came out, so as the article states this is a method used by the police up until now. I also stated in my previous reply that I am glad the chief changed the policy. But on the basis of one picture, these officers are being labeled as being racists, or intentionally demeaning the man in custody. Just as Mr. Neely is presumed innocent until proven guilty the officers should be afforded some presumption of innocence. Again let me restate that I do not like the image either.

Doug Sivyer


Doug Sivyer

Just because it is policy that doesn't make it right. The police Chief already admits this is not the appropriate or correct use of the technique. So yes, there is a problem with it.

Stuart Crouch

We used to have policies in this country that made it okay to have blacks go to the back of the bus, we had policies that denied blacks access to restaurants, policies that required them to drink from the hose out back, policies that they could not swim in public pools with the whites. Having a policy doesn't make something okay. Your logic, and that of those who are defending the officers because there was a policy, is that it's okay because there was a policy (which has since been changed, which is very telling). Saying the officers bear no culpability in this event is like saying that racial discrimination in earlier times was okay, because there was a policy. It was wrong, it is wrong, and the poor judgement of these officers should not be excused. There is likely a GPD policy on Use of Judgement (or something similar). These officers undoubtedly violated the bejeezus out of that one with their poor decision making here and they should be disciplined accordingly. Next time, wait on a unit to transfer. If they are in a big hurry and don't think a unit is coming, there are a ghost of other agencies on the island that have cooperative working agreements with GPD that could transport the guy. No excuses; poor judgement. Allow for due process, but it should be swift, take their medicine and move on.

Carlos Ponce

Not poor judgement on behalf of the mounted police. They were on RADIOS. Do you REALLY think they acted on their own volition?

Carlos Ponce

A lot can be learned if they would release the radio dispatch recordings. I seriously doubt if the mounted officers acted on their own. No need to wonder why the those in charge haven't released them.

Fred E. Diaz

The picture reflects accurate what was done to people of color during slave in addition to the civil rights struggle of what happened in Jasper, TX where a black man was dragged by a rope behind a truck. The victim was murdered. This must never be repeated by the law or anyone else.

Terry Moore

This is appalling in my view. If they were on foot patrol wouldn't they have had to wait on a unit for transport? What if the horse got spooked and dragged this person if he became tangled then what? Not only the vision portrayed in this photo was appalling but the danger they put him in.

I know he broke some sort of law to be arrested but they did not use common sense. Chief Hale said he was taken by surprise and knowing these officers are a reflection of his command I hope this protocol never happens again. I Back The Blue 100 but in this case they fell short in common sense.

Bill Cochrane

If Chief Hale is really concerned about "image", perhaps the police department could purchase horse diapers/manure bags for the horses. The carriage company are required to use them so why isn't the mounted patrol? The image now is that the mounted police horses can do their biz in the street.

robin plan

OMG this is beyond chilling even for the deep south in 2019. Sue the city, Mr. The Texas Civil Rights Project will take the case or find an org. that will.

Gary Scoggin

Sue the city for what? He was not injured or abused. It was a bad move by the officers but not every mistake is cause for a lawsuit.

Bailey Jones

The officers screwed up. The department acknowledged their error and issued an apology - two actions seen all too rarely these days. Let's move on.

Gary Scoggin

Bailey has the correct answer.

Wayne Holt

100% agree with you, Bailey. The biggest take-away here is that line officers may be completely unaware of how their actions are perceived by the public. Chief Hale was textbook correct on getting out an explanation, an apology and a corrective very quickly. It should be the end of this, there was no intent to recreate Dixie here.

BTW I have called the police on Mr. Neely myself. I observed him behind the post office building at 23rd @ Church at 11pm one night lining up trash containers, saluting them and kicking them over, all while wearing a surgical mask. He has mental problems and a long history of arrests. If he'd gone into that location where he trespassed and knifed someone at their desk, we'd be appalled by something else. This was bad optics for the Galveston Police Department that was appropriately handled by the person in charge, IMHO.

Bailey Jones

My larger concern for Mr. Neely, and his family, is that this photo - which was very well composed, and by a 9 year old if I believe what I read on Facebook - is racing around the world now, a permanent outrage meme to be trotted out and relabeled for news and opinion outlets, both real and fake, forever and ever. Do a reverse google search on the image - 8 pages of websites so far, including the NY Times, and in languages I don't even recognize. This could have been handled so much better without social media.

Emile Pope

If the cops had handled the situation better then there would be no problem. Put blame where it belongs instead of the ones reporting it...

Carlos Ponce

"Put blame where it belongs instead of the ones reporting it..." Where do you place the blame? The mounted police had radios. They were told a transport vehicle was not available. They were probably instructed as to what to do.

Don Schlessinger


Raymond Lewis

As the Police Chief said, “You have to be aware of the images we portray,” Poor judgement on the part of these (I will say) well intended officers, has allowed an image to be formed of our city that cannot be unseen. It is an image that anyone on this tourist island should find unsettling. It conjures up far too many painful memories for too many of us. Following accepted protocol aside, those beyond feeling embarrassment and sadness for our city as this image is being shared around the country should count themselves lucky...I suppose.

Harvey Rice

Thank you Raymond for writing eloquently about your feelings. A policy for protecting and or extracting someone in a crowded situation has been turned into a spectacle broadcast as you noted across the country which as you noted can not be unseen. I'm glad Chief Hale has responded so quickly and so directly. I appreciate your writing.

David Schuler

There are people on this forum who wake up every morning just looking for a chance to be outraged, appalled, insulted or demeaned. Grow up! No, this is not 'beyond chilling'. No harm was done to the suspect, and he did have a record dating back to 1994, so the officers were rightly making sure he couldn't run away. The only thing 'wrong' here was the 'optics' - and that is not a reason to have a panic attack - unless that's your full time job.

Lethia Fanuiel White

This image is appalling. I’m glad Chief Hale has changed this policy. The officers should have waited on a patrol car; this does not seem to be an “urgent” situation. As a BOI, I can say that I’ve never heard of or seen such a image. As an earlier comment stated, “what if the horse had become spooked.,.” then it would have been a totally different outcome. I hope this man’s family is able to reunite with him and find assistance for him or whatever is needed. Ropes, Black humans—-it’s 2019, not 1819.

Gary Scoggin

I hope the man is reunited with his family as well. After he makes bail for the crime he is accused of.

Carlos Ponce

“It is a valid training technique for transporting prisoners in the proper scenarios.” I do not fault the officers since they were reacting as trained and to policy. Body-cams were on the officers and chances are they had radios to communicate with headquarters as to their actions. If their actions were deemed inappropriate they would have been instructed to do something else. The appearance offends many so policy should be hold the perp in place until proper transport arrives.

AJ LeBlanc

This technique is defined in the article as a best practice. Does that mean it is employed in other cities and states? If so, how many times in the past 10 years has it been employed across the US? If it has been used before, why hasn’t this practice been called into question before now?

Emile Pope

You already know the answer...

Charles Douglas

"You have to be aware of the images we portray,” Hale said. The Chief is absolutely, ..T-totally correct. This was a bad look, no question about it. What we must do is take this as a teachable moment, make the proper corrections, and admonishments and move on. Nobody died and the sun will rise in the East tomorrow, I guarantee It! I doubt if the two officers involved would repeat the same mistake or others similar to that one ever again. They are here because there is a need for them to be! So lets not abolish the Galveston PD along with the border patrol please! They know they messed up! Besides, the readers and posters on this forum are the only ones who are perfect and never made a mistake! Right?

Charles Douglas

As the late Jon Wayan, longtime poster on this forum use to say, "POBODY IS NERFECT!"

Don Schlessinger

I wonder why we haven't heard from Camila, Bernie, Beto, Buttigieg and the Squad?

Stephen Murphy

If the officers had been on bicycles or scooters, and they had been using the same method to escort the suspect, would the photo still have gotten the same attention? I think not.

Raymond Lewis

There were no bicycles during the time associated with the feelings conjured up by these images.

tom carpenter

Had to be their first rodeo.

Bill Cochrane

Mr. Neely’s so-called “family” should be ashamed of themselves. They have allowed their mentally ill relative to live on the streets of Galveston for years. Now that there is obviously going to be a lawsuit and settlement they show up. And, if the paper is going to quote Beto O’Rourke why not print to whole quote? He said, “A black man, dragged with a rope by police officers on horses, in 2019. This moment demands accountability, justice, and honestly—because we need to call this out for what it is: racism at work.” Mr. Neely was not dragged. The rope was not tied around Neely's neck. The other end of the rope was not tied to the saddle. The officers were not wearing KKK robes.

Kimberly Klepcyk

Wow! Mr. Cochrane, dealing with a family member with severe mental illness is stressful enough without community members who don’t know the struggle to sit in judgement of them. You should be ashamed of what you’ve written here. It was thoughtless and uncalled for.

Bill Cochrane

Wow right back. So, you sit in judgement of me. You have no idea of my personal struggles with these things. They abandoned him.

Kimberly Klepcyk

I am certain that a public airing of your judgment will resolve the issue.

Cary Semar

No doubt the Roman legionaires were following policy when they made Christ carry his own cross to his execution. Even though there was no camera to record it, the optics of that event have resonated down through the millennia. Beware of the optics.

Nobody has to be fired. Nobody has to get sued. Just stop doing stupid stuff.

Carlos Ponce

The Romans were carrying out the will of the people. Don't you remember when the locals called out, "CRUCIFY HIM, CRUCIFY HIM!"?

Jesus' death was foretold in the Old Testament. He was carrying out the Father's will as well. Without Him dying on the cross for our sins we would have no chance at Heaven since we have all fallen short of the Kingdom.

Leonce Thierry

During Tuesday evening's community meeting, Chief Hale clearly stated that he had spend the previous 24 hours talking to law enforcement officials across the country discussing procedures related to mounted officer transport of an arrested individual. He clearly stated the manner for his type of investigation, and that he had not had formal contact with either officer related to the photographs. On many occasions, he praised both officers for their critical work with homeless citizens in downtown Galveston. Chief Hale informed the community that the two officers were not part of the official nine-member mounted patrol. Having looked at the photos for a full 24 hours, he informed the community that he would seek additional funding to increase the mounted patrol from nine officers to 11, adding the two officers seen in the photographs. Chief Hale has been imminently fair to his officers. His apology to the Neely family was based on his own cultural competence that comes from 28 years as a law enforcement official. I'm still raw having attended Tuesday's meeting. I haven't slept well since the photographs appeared. My anguish is real, as is the anguish of many African American citizens. Chief Hale held back his emotion. We saw his humanity. We saw his leadership. I trust his ability to do what is right.

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