The man whose arrest last year sparked international outrage because two mounted officers led him through downtown streets by a tether behind their horses, has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city and police department.
Donald Neely is seeking $1 million in damages for mental anguish caused by his Aug. 3, 2019, arrest outside the Galveston Park Board of Trustees building, 601 23rd St.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the 405th Judicial District Court, claims the actions of two white officers who arrested Neely, who is Black, were offensive, provocative, extreme and outrageous and caused him “embarrassment, humiliation and fear.”
“Neely felt as though he was put on display as slaves once were,” the lawsuit asserts. “He suffered from fear because one of the horses was acting dangerously, putting Neely in fear of being drug down the street by a run-away horse,” according to the lawsuit.
Houston attorney Julie Ketterman is representing Neely. She took over the case in March from prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who initially represented Neely and his family and organized a march for justice in Galveston to call for police reform.
Neely, who was homeless at the time of this arrest, was sleeping on a sidewalk under an awning at the rear of the building when two mounted police officers patrolling downtown as part of a newly formed mounted unit encountered him.
He had been accused of trespassing before, and officers patrolling downtown had been informed of a no-trespassing order against him, according to the city.
Officers arrested Neely for trespassing at the public building, which also houses a U.S. post office.
The officers, who were nearing the end of their shift, handcuffed Neely, attached a line to his hands and then walked him behind their horses about five blocks to a parking lot where they had left a horse trailer. Other officers arrived sometime later and transported Neely to the county jail in a motor vehicle.
The arrest occurred on a Saturday afternoon and was witnessed by residents and tourists visiting downtown.
Pictures of Neely’s arrest emerged on social media days later. The image of a Black man being led by two mounted white officers drew comparisons to images of slavery, and the pictures were featured on national news broadcasts and in international newspapers.
Details later emerged that revealed Neely was homeless and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
He had been arrested numerous times for trespassing at downtown properties, including once for damaging a bathroom inside the park board building.
Neely was not accused of causing any damage on Aug. 3.
Prosecutors dropped the trespassing charges against Neely in March. In court documents, county prosecutors noted that while probable cause to charge Neely existed, he had sought mental health treatment after his arrest and was making progress. They argued dismissal was in the interest of justice.
Shortly after the arrest gained notice, Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale said his officers used poor judgment by not waiting for a police car to pick up Neely.
A criminal review of Neely’s arrest conducted by the Texas Rangers resulted in no charges being filed against the officers. The city refused to release documents from a policy review of the arrest conducted by the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.
State law prohibits public disclosure of information about officer misconduct and discipline, the city said in a letter to the Texas Attorney General’s Office challenging an information request filed by The Daily News. The attorney general sided with the city.
The attorney general’s ruling notes the officers involved in Neely’s arrest were not disciplined by the department. The technique used to transport Neely was in accordance with the training officers had received, officials said.
At the time of Neely’s arrest, however, the department still was developing policies for mounted officers patrolling city streets. The department had previously used mounted officers only during large crowd events such as Mardi Gras.
The mounted downtown patrol was discontinued after Neely’s arrest.
City officials declined Friday to comment about the lawsuit. City attorneys hadn’t filed a response to the lawsuit as of Friday.