The city has asked outside agencies to investigate the Saturday arrest of Donald Neely, who was handcuffed, attached to a rope and led along a downtown street by two officers on horseback.
Mayor Jim Yarbrough announced the outside investigation during a special city council meeting Thursday.
City Manager Brian Maxwell had recommended the outside investigation and Police Chief Vernon Hale had agreed to it, according to the city.
The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office would conduct the investigation.
“This is such a polarizing event that it’s imperative that we have an independent, third-party investigation to ensure we address any potential issues,” Maxwell said.
The agencies will perform a “full administrative review of the department’s policies and practices as they relate to the arrest,” the city said.
The city said it would release “pertinent findings” when the investigation is completed.
The investigation would produce a written report, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
The Texas Rangers, the criminal investigative arm of the Department of Public Safety, would conduct a criminal investigation into the arrest and determine whether there had been any criminal violations, Barnett said.
The sheriff’s office is reviewing the police department’s arrest practices and policies, and will determine whether city police officers violated any of those rules, she said.
Melissa Morris, an attorney representing Neely, said she welcomed some of the city’s announcements.
“I welcome the Texas Rangers being involved,” Morris said. “I think that’s a good plan.”
She questioned whether the county sheriff’s office would be impartial in investigating the city’s officers, however, she said.
“I think that this might be an effort to quell it, without actually having to address it and fire these officers,” Morris said.
Neely’s arrest has sparked international controversy and criticism of the Galveston Police Department. Photographs of Neely, who is black, being walked down the street between the two white mounted officers has drawn comparisons to historical images of slavery.
Thursday’s meeting was the first council meeting since Neely’s arrest. Yarbrough used the meeting to make his feelings about the arrest, and reactions to it, known.
“I was shocked,” Yarbrough said. “How could this happen? How could this happen in Galveston?”
He and other city council members have received numerous calls and messages about the incident from Galvestonians and from around the world, he said.
Neely was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing Saturday at the Galveston Park Board of Trustees’ headquarters, 601 23rd St., according to a police report released Wednesday.
The officers acted on a standing order to arrest Neely if he was seen on the property. Neely had been arrested several times this year for trespassing at the same address.
Officers Patrick Brosch and Amanda Smith handcuffed Neely and attached him to a line, leading him to the intersection of 21st and Market streets, according to the police report.
The officers had called for a vehicle to transport Neely, but didn’t know how long they would be waiting and decided to lead him to a staging area, according to the report.
Hale on Monday apologized for causing Neely “unnecessary embarrassment” and said the officers should have waited for a vehicle.
The officers are still on duty as the incident is being investigated. Neely was released hours after the arrest, officials said.
This event is an example of the power of perception, Yarbrough said Thursday.
“Galveston has a rich 180-year history and while we’ve not always been perfect, our history has always been one of compassion, one of culture and ethnic diversity,” Yarbrough said.
Only the chief of police has the authority to discipline officers, Yarbrough said.
The officers followed training procedures for moving people while mounted on a horse, Hale said.
The officers used poor judgment, however, in deciding to move Neely through the streets instead of waiting for a police vehicle to come to them, he said.
The department has suspended the practice of using horses and ropes to escort arrested people.
If that was the practice, it’s time to review all of police policies, Yarbrough said Thursday.
“City management has already begun reviewing all policies that govern the police department,” Yarbrough said.
It is also time for the city to look at how police interact with mentally ill people, District 6 Councilwoman Jackie Cole said.
Neely suffers from bipolar disorder, according to his family.
Providing support to police and other departments for handling people with mental illness could require extra funding, which could mean reducing spending in other areas, Cole said.
Yarbrough said he trusted Hale and that other city administrators were taking appropriate action in response to Neely’s arrest.
“Situations like this remind all of us that our words and our actions are a reflection on our community,” Yarbrough said. “Galveston is better than this.”