After handcuffing Donald Neely and attaching him to a line so he could be led down the street behind a pair of horses, a Galveston police officer told Neely he would be dragged in the street if he didn’t walk with them, according to a witness who saw the arrest as it took place.
The witness, who asked to remain anonymous because she feared for her safety if she were identified, said she saw officers Amanda Smith and Patrick Brosch walking with Neely at the intersection of 23rd and Church streets, where he was arrested for trespassing Aug. 3.
The witness was with her family and was returning to her car from a downtown event when she walked by the officers and Neely, she said.
“We were going to walk across the street, and that’s when I heard her say, ‘If you don’t keep walking, I’m going to drag you,’” the witness said.
The witness said she believed the words were spoken by a woman. The witness believed the officer’s words were a threat against Neely, she said.
Multiple city and police officials have seen body camera images recorded by the officers on the day of an arrest that inspired worldwide outrage. The city has so far not released the recordings.
The city announced Thursday it would not be releasing any more details about Neely’s arrest because it had become the subject of criminal and administrative investigations.
City officials — including Police Chief Vernon Hale, City Manager Brian Maxwell, City Attorney Donald Glywasky and two public informations officers — were notified about the witness’ account Thursday evening and given the opportunity to refute the witness’ description of the events.
In a statement to The Daily News, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett acknowledged that independent investigators were looking into comments the witness described.
“The Galveston Police Department remains committed to uncovering all the facts in this case,” Barnett said. “Throughout this process, investigators have reviewed the statement made by one of the arresting officers (mentioned in your questions). As with any investigation, one statement must be evaluated within the context of the entire encounter.”
One city official, who did not agree to be named, said it was “debatable” that the officer’s words could be interpreted as a threat.
Another official, who did not agree to be named, said the statement could be interpreted as either a threat or a warning for Neely to be careful as he walked down the street.
The Daily News has filed a request under the state’s open record law for copies of recordings made by both officers’ body cameras. The city had not responded to the requests as of Friday.
The officers’ words are almost sure to increase the criticism of the police officers’ actions while arresting Neely. They have not been reported before and as of Friday, had been unknown to Neely’s attorneys.
“I believe that’s the reason the chief immediately issued an apology, because he was trying to bury it,” said Melissa Morris, one of Neely’s attorneys.
Neely, who is homeless and suffers from bipolar disorder, was arrested for criminal trespassing at the Galveston Park Board of Trustees office building, at 601 23d St. Galveston police department officers had a standing order to arrest him if he was seen on the property, city officials said.
Just before 5 p.m. Aug. 3, a busy summer Saturday in Galveston’s touristy downtown, police officers Brosch and Smith approached Neely and arrested him. They handcuffed Neely, then attached him to a line one of the officers held.
The officers then walked Neely north on 23rd Street on their way to a staging area near the intersection of 21st and Market streets, where the officers had parked a horse trailer and vehicles.
The officers decided to walk Neely four blocks to the staging area instead of waiting for a police car to arrive and pick him up on 23rd Street because no police units were immediately available, officials said.
The witness told The Daily News she couldn’t believe what she saw.
The witness was standing on the street corner near the Coastal Community Federal Credit Union and could see that Neely was wearing a boxy mask while walking with the officers, she said.
“It looked like he was either tripping or stumbling,” she said. “He was having a hard time walking with that thing on.”
It did not appear that Neely was resisting the police officers, she said.
A video of the arrest posted by a different person showed the police officers removing a welder’s mask from Neely’s head as they stopped at the intersection of 23rd Street and Church Street, the same area where the witness saw Neely.
Multiple people photographed Neely being walked behind the mounted officers.
When the images were posted on social media Monday, they sparked worldwide outrage and criticism of the Galveston Police Department.
Critics of the department have said the officers’ choice to move Neely through the city’s streets while attached to the rope was racist, and compared the photographs to historic images of slavery.
Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale on Monday apologized for causing Neely “unnecessary embarrassment” and immediately suspended the technique used by the officers.
The method used to move Neely was a trained technique and was done properly, Hale said. However, he said the officers used poor judgment in choosing to move Neely at all instead of waiting for a police car to come to them.
At a community meeting Tuesday night, Hale faulted himself for not having the foresight to have better controls on how mounted police officers move arrestees.
The Galveston Municipal Police Association, a union representing police officers, has defended the officers’ actions. The officers were acting in accordance with their training, according to the union.
The union has pointed to other instances of people being attached to leads by mounted officers as evidence that Neely was not treated differently than other people.
In a statement sent on Saturday evening, police association president Geoff Gainer said he was not aware of Neely ever being mistreated by Galveston police officers.
Gainer said he could not comment more on the incident because of the independent investigation and because he is a city employee.
“I am confident these investigations will both show our officers performed their duties with professionalism and compassion while being presented with a difficult situation,” Gainer said.
Morris, who was retained by Neely’s family, said Tuesday that Neely didn’t feel violated by the police department’s treatment.
Neely did, however, fear he would be dragged by the horses if he did not cooperate with the police officers, Morris said Friday.
“He was afraid that the horses were going to drag him,” Morris said. “He said they were nice to him, they didn’t hurt him but he was afraid they were going to make the horses run.”
Neely did not tell Morris the officers verbally threatened to drag him, she said. She believed that the witness’ comments explained why Morris was afraid.
Neely’s attorneys are expected to announce a civil lawsuit against the city Monday.
The city has not announced whether or how the officers would be disciplined for their actions. That decision is left up to Hale, who has said they would be “counseled” about their actions.
The Texas Rangers and the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, will conduct independent investigations into Neely’s arrest, the city announced Thursday.
The Rangers investigation is a criminal inquiry, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.