The city of Galveston has asked the Texas Attorney General’s office if it can stop the release of the body camera recordings of Donald Neely’s Aug. 3 arrest.
In a letter sent to The Daily News, 11 other news organizations and Neely’s attorneys, the city said it believed it is allowed to withhold the recordings under state law.
The recordings are believed to have documented what two Galveston police officers said and did while they arrested Neely in downtown Galveston on Aug. 3. Critics of the arrest have called for the public release of the tapes, so they can judge the officers’ actions and their treatment of Neely.
In the letter, Assistant City Attorney Mehran Jadidi cited part of the Texas Occupations Code that allows body camera recordings to be withheld while the event it depicts is part of an administrative investigation.
“The city believes it must withhold the requested materials based on the exceptions state in the occupations code,” Jadidi said. “There is an ongoing investigation by the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office into the incidents which are the subject of the body worn camera footage.”
Appealing to the attorney general is a typical move by a government agency that believes it has a legal reason to withhold a public document.
The attorney general typically has 90 days to respond to the city’s request for a ruling.
Neely, a homeless, mentally ill black man, was arrested for trespassing at the Galveston Park Board Trustees building, 601 23rd St. While he was arrested, Neely was handcuffed and attached to a line held by a mounted Galveston police officer.
The officers then walked Neely about four city blocks, or 400 yards, to a staging area. The officers remained on the horses while Neely walked between them.
Neely’s arrest was photographed and recorded by passersby as he was walked down the street. When photographs of the arrest were shared on social media, they drew accusations of racism against the police department and the city.
Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale apologized for causing Neely “unnecessary embarrassment” during the arrest and said his officers used poor judgment while choosing to move Neely instead of waiting for a car to come to them.
Hale also signed off on two independent investigations, one by the Texas Rangers and one by the sheriff’s office, to determine if the officers violated any crimes or broke any department policies during the arrest.
On Friday, the Texas Rangers announced it had concluded its criminal inquiry and determined that criminal charges against the officers were not warranted.
The sheriff’s office has not concluded its administrative investigation, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.
The city’s appeal to the attorney general is not unexpected.
Government entities are required by state law to respond to open records request within 10 business days of a request and to notify the person making the request if the entity intends to challenge the release of a document.
The city did face another unofficial deadline in regards to the body cameras.
Last week, Ben Crump, a civil attorney representing Neely and his family, announced he was giving the city a 30-day deadline to release the tapes publicly.
If the tapes were not released, Crump said he would organize a large civil rights march on Galveston on Sept. 15.
Crump initially said the march would only happen if the city did not meet the deadline. Last week, however, advertisements began circulating on social media advertising detailed plans for the march.
Asked about the flyers, Tezlyn Figaro, a spokeswoman for Crump, said the police had refused to release the recordings publicly, and the march will happen.